Court: Ohio must allow gender changes on birth certificates

Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio – Ohio can’t keep refusing to allow people to change the gender listings on their birth certificates, a federal court ruled Wednesday.

In response to a lawsuit brought by four transgender people, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio found Ohio’s birth certificate rule imposed by the state Department of Health and the Office of Vital Statistics is unconstitutional.

The state was weighing an appeal.

Judge Michael Watson rejected the state of Ohio’s arguments that the policy helped prevent fraud and maintain a historically accurate record of its citizenry. He called such justifications “nothing more than thinly veiled post-hoc rationales to deflect from the discriminatory impact of the policy.”

The court sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio and Lambda Legal, which argued on behalf of plaintiffs that the state’s requirement prevents transgender people from obtaining a document essential to everyday living and subjects them to discrimination and potential violence.

“This is truly a victory for the LGBT community, in every aspect,” plaintiff Stacie Ray said in a statement.

Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, called Watson’s ruling validating.

“Today’s ruling affirms that the state must recognize the dignity and true identity of every transgender Ohioan,” she said in a statement. “It is incredibly frustrating that our clients faced years of unlawful discrimination, but today we celebrate this victory as an acknowledgement to their commitment to justice.”

The lawsuit, which listed the plaintiffs as three females and one male, claimed the birth certificate rule imposed by the Ohio Department of Health and the state Office of Vital Statistics is inconsistent with the state’s practice of permitting transgender people to correct gender markers on their driver’s licenses and state identification cards.

Spokesperson Melanie Amato said the Health Department was reviewing the decision.

The plaintiffs in the case were Ray, Jane Doe and Ashley Breda, women whose birth certificates indicate their sex as male, and Basil Argento, a man whose birth certificate indicates his sex as female.

At a March 2019 news conference announcing the suit, Ray insisted “I am a woman” and called the lack of an accurate birth certificate “humiliating.”

“Ohio’s refusal to correct my birth certificate is a constant reminder that my home state does not recognize me as a woman,” she said.

Ray said a co-worker threatened her with violence when a human resources employee questioned the gender listing on her birth certificate loudly enough for others to hear. Lacking a birth certificate that matches her gender identity also caused delays in her obtaining a hazardous-materials endorsement needed for her promotion as a truck driver.

The conservative Citizens for Community Values has criticized the lawsuit for wasting taxpayer dollars and sacrificing birth certificate information they say is essential to protecting citizens’ health, safety and privacy.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost had not yet decided whether to appeal, said spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle.

“We are consulting with our client to see what next steps, if any, are needed,” she said in a text message.