A Utah Republican state representative wants to block transgender people from changing the gender markers on their birth certificates following decision by the Utah Supreme Court earlier this year.
In May, the state’s highest court ruled in favor of two transgender plaintiffs who sued after an Ogden judge granted their petition for name changes but refused to issue an order to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. Without a court order, the gender on a birth certificate cannot be changed.
The court ruled in that case that judges must grant gender marker change requests so long as the petitioner meets certain criteria, including proof that the request is not made for any “wrongful or fraudulent purpose,” and that the petitioner has undergone medically appropriate treatment related to a gender transition.
But State Rep. Merill Nelson (R-Grantsville) objects to the court’s decision, arguing that lawmakers should prioritize ensuring that a person’s biological sex at birth cannot be changed on birth certificates, because sex and gender identity are two different things.
“I disagree with the outcome of the [Supreme Court] case. I don’t think it’s sound public policy to equate biological sex with gender identity. I think they are two different things,” Nelson said on Wednesday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Other opponents of gender marker changes have claimed birth certificates are historical records important to ensuring the integrity of vital statistics. However, the Utah Department of Health told the Tribune that it already collects information about child’s sex at birth, without it having to be included on the birth certificate.
In 2019, Nelson introduced a bill to bar gender-marker changes on birth certificates, but ultimately withdrew the bill after backlash from members of the transgender community and their allies.
Nelson currently sits on the Utah House Health and Human Services Interim Committee. The committee studies issues ahead of the next legislative session, based on bills that did not pass during the past session and lawmaker’s recommendations, and in anticipation of bills that might be introduced in the future.
Last week, Nelson said lawmakers should “re-establish bedrock on what sex means and what gender identity means,” but insisted that his proposal to introduce a bill to do that was not driven by anti-trans animus.
“I don’t think [transgender Utahns] should have to go into a court to declare their gender identity. I think they should be free to declare it anytime, any place, and be respected in that gender identity,” he said. “But as far as a birth certificate, that’s a different document, and sex [is] different from gender identity.”
Nelson said that lawmakers have three choices: 1) abide by the Supreme Court’s decision, and allow transgender people to change their “sex” designation on all identity documents; 2) define the term “sex” in a manner that disallows gender-marker changes on all identity documents; or 3) prohibit gender-marker changes on birth certificates, but amend other state-issued documents, such as driver’s licenses or school transcripts, to include the designation “gender identity” and allow changes to that.
He also said he expects some backlash if lawmakers choose to prioritize his proposed bill.
“It’s a very delicate issue, a very sensitive issue, a controversial issue. And anyone who undertakes this, be prepared for a lot of arrows,” Nelson said, referring to the criticism that he and Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) — who introduced a bill to prohibit gender-marker changes on birth certificates in 2018 — received when they attempted to address the issue in the past.
But LGBTQ advocates would prefer the law remain as is and that lawmakers abide by the Utah Supreme Court’s decision, noting that having identity documents that match their gender identity and expression are crucial to protecting transgender individuals’ safety. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one-third of trans or nonbinary people who showed an ID that did not match their gender identity said they had been verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, or assaulted.
Candice Metzler, the executive director of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, told the American Independent that Nelson’s “compromise” proposal would not be a positive development for transgender people in the state.
“I think in this case, this is a form of gaslighting by saying you people who have all these crazy ideas, you can have this gender thing, but we’re going to control the sex,” Metzler said. “We’re going to say that you can’t change sex because this really is about religion and their need to put people in boxes.”
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