Photo: Chris Christie. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.
In what comes as a disappointment but not a shock to LGBT advocates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) again vetoed a comprehensive bill that would have allowed transgender or intersex individuals to obtain new, clean copies of birth certificates reflecting their correct gender identity.
The bill would have allowed transgender people to obtain a new, unmarked version of their birth certificate reflecting their correct gender without having to undergo painful and cost-prohibitive surgery, instead allowing a person’s gender marker to be changed upon receipt of a note from their 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. Similar measures have passed in nine other states, as well as in New York City and the District of Columbia.
Christie, a contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016, previously vetoed a similar bill in 2014. Supporters of this year’s measure, which attracted more Republican support than the previous bill, had hoped that greater support from lawmakers, including those of his own party, would push Christie to sign the bill into law. But some activists had also privately worried that Christie’s presidential ambitions would sink any bill that was LGBT-related as the governor attempts to woo conservative primary voters to his side.
“Last year, I vetoed identical legislation noting that a birth certificate is one of the most important legal documents that a person possesses and that proposed measures to revise the standards for the issuance of amended birth certificates must be accompanied by appropriate safeguards to mitigate security-related risks,” Christie wrote in his veto message. “Birth certificates unlock access to many of our nation and State’s critical and protected benefits such as passports, driver’s licenses, and social services, as well as other important security-dependent allowances. Accordingly, I remain committed to the principle that efforts to significantly alter State law concerning the issuance of vital records that have the potential to create legal uncertainties should be closely scrutinized and sparingly approved.”
Christie also noted that New Jersey residents are not required to get a court order to change their gender markers on vital records, noting that there is “an expedited administrative route” by which they can amend such documents. Christie said that in order to win his approval, the bill presented to him by the legislature would require additional safeguards to protect against “fraud, deception and abuse.”
“When I vetoed this same bill last session, I asked the Legislature to consider incorporating appropriate measures to alleviate the security concerns and legal uncertainties that would be created by this legislation,” Christie continued. “Once again, I ask the Legislature to reconsider this proposal and to bring forth legislation that addresses these legitimate and significant concerns.”
While the Assembly and Senate could override Christie’s veto to pass the bill into law, LGBT advocates note that New Jersey Republicans have historically been unwilling to defy a governor of their own party, even in cases where the measure has significant and broad bipartisan support. An override would require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly. The birth certificate bill initially passed the Senate 30-6, with four members absent, and the Assembly 51-23, with six members absent.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), which worked in coalition with groups on the ground such as Garden State Equality to see the bill passed, issued a statement blasting Christie’s veto.
“For the second time, Governor Chris Christie has elected to allow his state’s birth certificate laws to deteriorate despite the overwhelming majority of support from the New Jersey legislature to modernize,” said Arli Christian, state policy counsel for NCTE. “His veto on this bill keeps in place outdated and burdensome requirements that make it incredibly difficult for transgender people to get birth certificates that match who they are. Birth certificates play an enormous role in transgender people’s ability to live their life as the person that they are. And Governor Christie has — for a second time — vetoed legislation denying that for transgender New Jerseyans.”
Andrea Bowen, the executive director of Garden State Equality, said her organization would work to try to muster the votes for an override. In the meantime, she added, Garden State Equality would work with its community partners to try and find other ways of easing the rigid requirements surrounding amending gender markers on vital records. But she did not hold back from criticizing Christie.
“Governors Christie’s veto means that transgender people will have to undergo unnecessary surgery just to change the M or F on their birth certificate,” she said. “That’s not only absurd and gruesome, but it’s out of line with what the federal government does for U.S. passports, Social Security records, and what New Jersey already does for its driver’s licenses. What the Governor has done here is nonsensical, cruel, and — if you care at all about good government processes — illogical.”