Birth certificate gender change fight not yet over

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 

The fight over changing gender markers on birth certificates isn’t yet over.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Board of Directors voted to require sign-off from a medical or mental health professional for minors who want to change the gender markers on their birth certificates.

An earlier proposal would have required all applicants, regardless of age, to get medical approval before changing their birth certificates. That original draft came from the legislature, though it wasn’t clear at the meeting which lawmakers, or how many, supported the idea. 

After discussion, deputy attorney general Nicole McKay drafted language to make the proposal specific to minors.

Last year, IDHW changed its rules to allow applicants to change the gender marker on their Idaho-issued birth certificates. The change was the result of a 2017 lawsuit from two plaintiffs who were not allowed to change their birth certificate. Read the complaint here.

Sen. Fred Martin, a member of the board and chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told the board that the discussion over changing birth certificates has been “contentious” among his fellow lawmakers.

“Individually, I’m most concerned about minors. So I would hope that what the board does and comes forward would most affect those that need the most protection. To me that would be a minor,” Martin said. “Are we going to have consensus? No. But I would encourage something to put a step between the individual and that change, especially as it relates to minors.”

James Aydelotte, state registrar at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, said of the 101 applications for gender change since April 6, 2018, 15 of those have been for minors younger than 18 years old.

Peter C. Renn, Kara Ingelhart, and Monica Cockerille, the attorneys who represented the original plaintiff in the 2017 lawsuit, wrote to the board to object to the original proposal.

“The proposed revisions are not consistent with the Court’s March 5, 2018 order,” the attorneys wrote. “The Court recognized the ‘potential implications of restrictions and restraints IDHW may place on the ability of transgender people to apply for and receive approval of applications to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.’”

“It then cautioned against any rule that would ‘subject one class of people to any more onerous burdens than the burdens placed on others without constitutionally-appropriate justification — for instance, to apply for a change in paternity information the applicant is not required to submit medical evidence, such as DNA confirmation, to prove paternity or non-paternity,'” the letter continued. “Despite the Court specifically citing the example of ‘medical evidence’ as an unjustified burden, the proposed revision would now expressly require such ‘medical evidence.’”

The board debate focused on whether a birth certificate change is a medical decision or a family decision, and how much the government should be involved in it. Some debate also centered on potential litigation, which the board discussed in executive session. 

Board member Timothy Rarick, who made the motion to approve the amended rule change, said minors often question gender roles and identity as a normal part of development, but most often settle on an identity that conforms with their biological sex.

But some were skeptical that the change was needed.

I and the ACLU would be very interested in understanding what that rationale is,” Kathy Griesmyer, policy director for ACLU-Idaho, told Idaho Reports at the meeting. “At this point, the system seems to be working, so why put people through an additional burden?”

Emilie Jackson-Edney, who also attended the meeting, said she isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of requiring a medical sign-off. Jackson-Edney pointed to federal documents, such as passports, which currently require an affidavit for gender changes.

That said, transgender patients seeking health care in rural Idaho could run into issues, both with general access and with finding providers who understand trans-specific issues, Edney-Jackson said. This proposal, she added, could put an additional burden on an already marginalized community.

It could be really difficult for them to access that kind of health care,” she said. 

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