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The Arizona Court of Appeals has ordered a lower court judge who denied a transgender man’s request for a name change to grant the request.
In a sharply worded decision, the court found that Yuma County Judge Lawrence Kenworthy acted outside the law when he refused to grant Sebastian Tomas Valentine’s request for a name change.
Valentine had sought the change so that his name would align with his gender identity, writing in on the court form, “I am transitioning and want my documents to match my identity.”
But six days later, on Feb. 26, Kenworthy rejected the request for “failure to show good cause.” He never held a hearing on the issue.
However, on Wednesday, the appeals court found that state law allows anyone to petition a court for a name change if they swear they are doing it solely for their own benefit, understand that the change won’t release them from standing legal obligations, aren’t a convicted felon or currently facing charges, and aren’t changing their identity to facilitate a crime, reports the Associated Press.
“The statute does not permit the superior court to deny a person’s name-change request only because the person wants the new name to reflect a gender transition,” Appeals Court Judge David D. Weinzweig wrote in the unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel.
Kenworthy has declined to comment on the appeals court’s ruling.
Abby Jensen, the legal director at the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, which has been working in consort with the American Civil Liberties Union on Valentine’s behalf, claims that Kenworthy has previously denied two other name change requests from transgender Yuma-area residents. One was eventually granted, and the other request is being refiled.
“I do not think it’s a systemic problem,” Jensen told the AP, noting that other counties have approved name changes without issue. “This is the first judge in Arizona I know of who has resisted the name change request by transgender people specifically.”
Jensen added that judges “should not be acting as gatekeepers regarding the legitimacy of a person’s name change request.”
“And that’s true for everyone, not just trans people,” she said. “Whether or not the judge likes the person’s choice of name or why they’re doing it is irrelevant.”
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