Metro Weekly

New Jersey legislature passes birth certificate reform bill

But measure's biggest hurdle may be surviving a veto by Governor Chris Christie

Photo: Chris Christie Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen.

Photo: Chris Christie Credit: Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen.

Both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature on Thursday passed a bill amending New Jersey’s procedures for issuing new birth certificates for transgender or intersex individuals to reflect their correct gender. 

The bill allows people who have undergone a gender transition or wish to amend their birth certificate to reflect their correct gender — and in some cases, correct name — to obtain new, unmarked birth certificates containing that information. Under current New Jersey law, an individual must provide proof that he or she has undergone surgery for a gender transition. This is often difficult for low-income transgender people, who may not have the necessary funds or insurance to cover transition-related expenses. Furthermore, surgery is not required to treat someone’s gender dysphoria in all cases. 

Under the new changes approved by both the Assembly and the Senate on Thursday, the state registrar shall issue a new certificate upon receipt of a court order confirming any name change, if the person has changed their name, and a note from the person’s health care provider indicating that the individual has undergone treatment appropriate for a gender transition, in accordance with the most recent medical standards for treating gender dysphoria. The new birth certificate will not be marked as amended and the original birth certificate will be placed under seal. That seal shall not be broken except in the case of a court order, or upon the request of the individual to whom it pertains.

Eight other states — California, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon and Washington — have taken steps to eliminate the surgical requirement for transgender people, and most — with the exception of Oregon — also do not require a court order before a new birth certificate can be issued. New York City, which issues its own birth certificates separate from the rest of New York state, and the District of Columbia have also passed similar measures. Another bill, in Hawaii, was approved by the legislature but is awaiting Gov. David Ige (D)’s signature before it can be enacted into law. 

But New Jersey’s biggest hurdle may be its governor, Chris Christie, who is expected to announce a decision in the coming days about his presidential ambitions. Christie, whose name has been bandied about as a contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency, previously vetoed a similar bill in 2014, citing concerns over “significant legal uncertainties” and saying changing New Jersey’s current statutes might “create opportunities for fraud, deception, and abuse.”

If Christie does decide to veto the bill, it will be up to the legislature to override his veto. To override a veto requires 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly. The votes are there in the Senate, which passed the measure 30-6, according to the New Jersey Legislature’s website, but whether the votes are there in the Assembly is questionable. The measure initially passed the lower chamber, 51-23, with six members absent. Proponents of the bill would need to win over the votes of three more legislators to ensure the bill can be passed into law. 

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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