Battling Michigan for My Original Birth Certificate

After decades being denied equal treament by Michigan’s “public health” officials, I finally prevailed in my test of wills with the state’s over-zealous adoption bureaucrats to secure my original birth certificate from the state of my birth. I received my copy of my original birth certificate–the document that was mine by birthright–on July 18, 2016. In typical Michigan fashion and without any legal mandate, the secrecy mongers at the state marked it “SEALED” three times, just to remind me I was a lowly bastard, and not “legitimate” like all non-adoptees who are treated as persons with greater rights. Yes, dear reader, welcome to the world of adoption discrimination and paternalism, Michigan style. However, by publishing my certificate here, I am now taking away the state’s illegal and immoral assertion that my record of birth is a secret document and never meant to be touched, seen, smelled, or owned by me.

That's me holding up my original birth certificate, that shows I was a person who born in Detroit with a different name and past than the one I lived after I was adopted. This document is no longer a state secret, despite Michigan's efforts to keep it sealed in some storage area, and especially never in the hands of the human being who owns that document by birthright.

That’s me holding up my original birth certificate. It shows I was a person who was born in Detroit with a different name and past than the one I lived after I was adopted. This document is no longer a state secret, despite Michigan’s efforts to keep it sealed in some storage area, and especially never in the hands of the human being who owns that document by birthright.

Getting my document ultimately required a court order. That was an entirely avoidable process had the state chosen to demonstrate compassion and leadership, and treat me with dignity instead of as a second-class citizen who had to be defeated at great cost. The state always had the ability to exercise discretion in its management of its duties and in accordance with law, but chose to double down on secrecy and oppose a bastard–yes, I am a bastard–who dared question the state’s power and legitimacy.

This 27-year-long effort ultimately occurred because of the state’s out-of-date and discriminatory approach toward adoptees and in managing adoption records. You can see a video of my request on my adoption web resource page. I have published a “key facts” page to summarize the issue. (See below for a detailed record of my requests and the state’s denials and replies, as well as my state Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request.) My court order, sent to the state on July 1, 2016, finally compelled reluctant “public health” officials to release my original birth certificate. The state always had the abilitiy to release my original identity document, but they chose to deny it to me as far back as 1989. I also published a long-form essay on this journey and why this matters to anyone who cares about public health, fairness, and equality.

The state justified its repeated denials to share my birth certificate with me by simply claiming the “law is the law.” That law is tantamount to legalized discrimination against me and thousands of other adoptees simply because we were born illegitimately and are adopted persons. No other group of persons in Michigan, not even convicted felons, are denied this document on the basis of their status at birth. Michigan’s modern-day discrimination is a continuation of historic practices that have long penalized bastards for being born illegitimately, with lesser rights than other persons.

The state’s adoption bureaucracy offered what I call absurdist, paternalistic, and illogical resistance to my reasonable requests. I had provided legal copies of documents bearing my original birth name, my medical records during my adoption, my adoption decree, and other legal documents. The state retained an indefensible legal position holding what I was legally entitled to: my original birth certificate.

Here is a record of my efforts, including links to documents and correspondences, and replies by state officials. As a result of the state initially refusing to give me a copy of my original birth certificate, when it had the ability to release it, I sought a court order to compel the state to release my original record of my birth. That court order was signed by Judge Richard Dingell of the Michigan 3rd Circuit Court on June 17, 2016. In short, the court found Michigan at fault and agreed I was entitled to my original birth certificate. As a citizen with constitutional rights to equal treatment under the law, I have always been entitled to equal treatment under the U.S. 14th Amendment, in spite of Michigan’s historic discriminatory legal practices and statutes that deny me just and equal status and treatment.

  • March 20, 2016: Rudy Owens’ letter to Gov. Rick Snyder’s press team and the Michigan media with copy of my request for my birth certificate from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS.
  • Gov. Snyder’s media team forwards a copy of my email to the MDHHS (confirmed by public records I have obtained) the same day, March 20, 2016. I received a call from an Deputy State Registrar Tamara Weaver (who did not identify her title on the call) on March 22, 2016. She asked if I would get a court order. She said “the law is the law,” and she defended state’s view to keep my certificate from me, without having seen my original documents and evidence. Records will show she already was working intensely  on a denial a week before my request arrived at the state.
  • March 21, 2016Rudy Owens’ letter, sent certified mail, to MDHHS Director Nick Lyon, requesting a copy of his original birth certificate.
  • Package includes copies of original birth records showing my original birth name of Scott Douglas Owens (adoption decree, medical record, consent form by birth mother allowing release of information). Records, sent certified mail, arrived at Director Lyon’s office on March 28, 2018.
  • March 29, 2016: State of Michigan denies request for my original birth certificate, sent by State Registrar Glenn Copeland of the MDHHS.
  • The denial failed to acknowledge I already know my birth family and know my birth name. State has discretion to interpret laws in a manner that provides a public benefit. State uses “law is the law” rationale, ignores key evidence. Public records will show this response was sent before the state had time to review my evidence—showing the state failed to review key facts in request or provide a fair review of a records request.
  • April 8, 2016Rudy Owens’ letter to Michigan 3rd Circuit Court requesting court order for the MDHHS to release a copy of my original birth certificate.
  • The application was received, along with the requisite forms (DHS-1920, DHS-1925, and, later in May as requested by the court, PGA-327). My justification to the court noted, “I am no longer wanting to accept the state’s continued unjust treatment of me simply because I am an adopted Michigan native who wants what non-adopted Michiganders receive: equal treatment under the law. A just outcome that releases the certificate to me poses no burden, meaningful cost, or harm to any party, nor the state of Michigan.” Court date was scheduled for June 17, 2016.
  • June 3, 2016Rudy Owens’ letter to State Registrar Glenn Copeland of the MDHHS asking for another review of request for original birth certificate, sent by email and certified mail.
  • The letter highlights that Copeland’s past denial did not consider all the evidence sent certified mail to Director Lyon in March, and thus needed a clear review. It was received certified mail by Copeland on June 8, 2016. Copeland has provided no reply to my request, even with clear proof in records that his review of my request was done before the state had reviewed the evidence.
  • June 3, 2016Rudy Owens’ letter requesting FOIA search of records held by the MDHHS relating to how state officials deliberate on requests by adult adoptees—all records are subject to open records law.
  • The FOIA request asks for all records, including emails, that reference my current and former legal name, to determine how MDHHS deliberated on records requests—a major public policy issue impacting thousands of adoptees in Michigan. The request for records was completed by the MDHSS legal team on June 9, 2016. Among many findings, my simple request for my original birth certificate was called a “problem” by a senior MDHHS official and state officials gave direction to staff to have me “tagged” me in their system. As of July 20, 2016, I am now publishing copies of original records of state officials managing my file. The records provide a remarkable insider’s perspective on how high-level state officials worked feverishly to deny me my original birth certificate, even when I had proven I know my birth name and birth families now for 27 years.
  • June 17, 2016: Michigan 3rd Circuit Court Judge Richard Dingell signs a court order requiring the MDHHS to release a copy of Rudy Owens’ original birth certificate (note birth date intentionally whited out–complete copy was sent to the media outlets).
  • The Hon. Judge Dingell agreed with facts of the case: Owens knows his birth name, has had nearly three decades of contact with his birth families, the required consent to release identifying information was signed by his birth mother in 1989. The state now has no legal rationale to continue its decades-long discrmination against me by holding a birth records whose contents have not been secret for 27 years and denying me equal treatment under the law.

    Defeating the adoption-records-secrecy dragon can be a decades-long hero's quest. It is worth it.

    Defeating the adoption-records-secrecy dragon can be a decades-long hero’s quest. It is worth it.

  • July 1, 2016: Rudy Owens’ letter to MDHHS Vital Records, with a copy of Judge Dingell’s court order, the approved state petition to release my original birth records signed by Judge Dingell, and all the materials I had earlier mailed to Director Lyon at MDHHS is mailed.
  • My package also included emails of state officials that were sent to me as part of my FOIA records request. Those emails by senior state official themselves say the department must release my original birth record with a court order.
  • July 2, 2016: Rudy Owens’ press release sent to multiple media (print, broadcoast, blogs) in Oregon and Michigan highlighting the court order that now compells the state of Michigan to release a copy of my original birth certificate to me.
  • A member of the Michigan media who contacted me did not seem to understand the barriers posed by forcing a person to go to a court to demand the most important vital record of all persons, a birth certificate. This is an enormously draining, time-consuming, and offensive demand that is meant to treat adopted persons as second-class persons. No citizen of Michigan who isn’t adopted is asked to do this when they ask for their birth certificate. One question I posed to the reporter was, is it fair for the state to not treat me the way it treats non-adoptees. It is not a trick question. It is at the heart of the matter regarding how the state denies equal treatment under the law to adoptees. The reporter could not say the outlet would write a story. They needed to check with the state.
  • July 18, 2016: Rudy Owens’ original birth certificate arrives by mail, after decades of discrmination by the state of Michigan, the MDHHS, the department’s vital records professionals, and the individual state employees who sought to deny me what is mine by birthright.
  • The original “Certficate of Live Birth” provides my original birth name, which I have known for 27 years–Scott Douglas Owens, my birth mother’s birth name, the name of my hospital (Crittenton General Hospital), my birth mother’s age at the time of my birth, my birth mother’s address at the time of my birth,  the date of my birth, and the signature of the attending doctor. The legal document that marked my entrance into this world as a human being, with genetic kin and family histories and family members who did want to know me, was registered as my original birth certificate about four weeks after my birth. This single sheet of paper was deemed a state secret, to which I was undeserving unlike all-non-adopted state residents simply because of I was relinquished as an infant to become an adoptee. The only reason–and I repeat only reason–I now have possession of what is and always has been mine is because I never once recognized the legal or moral authority of the state’s so-called vital records professionals to deny me equal treatment and equal status by law. They never had that authority, and their actions over all these years demonstrate their lack of moral authority to anyone who may care about a funny idea called fairness and equality. By denying me my birth certificate, even when I knew my original name and birth families, they proved they had no moral center, clinging to a legalistic loin cloth and well-documented prejudice against anyone who dares to say the emperor has no clothes. (Note my birth certificate gives my original middle name as “Douglass” while other original records say “Douglas”–and I have no way of knowing which one was the preferred or intended spelling. When I changed my name in 2009 to Rudolf Scott-Douglas Owens, I stuck with the version I saw in more documents.)

You can see copies of my essays on the topic of adoption and birth records on my adoptee’s perspective on adoption page.