Judge lets stand Michigan’s rules for changing gender

Jennifer Chambers

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Michigan’s secretary of state over her past requirements for changing gender on state identification.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds issued her ruling Tuesday, 15 months after six transgender Michigan residents sued Ruth Johnson for requiring a birth certificate to change gender on a driver’s license or ID.

On March 10, Johnson changed the policy and began to allow U.S. passports or passport cards to be used to change gender on IDs. The move essentially dropped a gender confirmation surgery requirement.

Edmunds said Johnson amended the state policy in a significant way and because the change was done voluntarily, the case now is moot under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

“The state will now accept a U.S. passport or passport card to validate an applicant’s gender,” Edmunds wrote in her ruling. “This development is particularly important to the transgender community — and, by extension, this case — because, according to plaintiffs, the U.S. Department of State only requires a doctor’s certification that a person ‘has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition’ to change the gender on his or her passport.”

In a statement, Johnson said the lawsuit addressed what documents the state can require for a person to update their driver’s license or state ID information.

“This dismissal supports the department’s policies intended to ensure the integrity of the state-issued driver’s licenses and personal IDs that law enforcement and homeland security officials rely on,” Johnson said.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LBGT project at the ACLU whose office represented the plaintiffs, was not immediately available.

Earlier this year, he said the policy change does not resolve all challenges for transgender residents to obtain an ID that properly reflects the gender with which they identify. He continued to seek a court order declaring the state’s policy unconstitutional and an injunction against Johnson prohibiting her from enforcing the state’s policy.

The six Michigan transgender residents sued Johnson in May 2015 alleging a policy change she made in 2011 made it impossible for many transgender people to change their driver’s licenses or state IDs.

The change required a transgender resident to obtain an amended birth certificate and, for people born in Michigan, that requires a person to undergo gender confirmation surgery, Kaplan said.

Another major concern, Kaplan said, is that the Secretary of State’s Office has changed the policy several times in the past decade. “And there is no guarantee they will stick with the policy,” he said.

In her ruling, Edmunds said there is no evidence in the record that Johnson has announced any intention of, or made any threat to “revert back to the old policy.”

“On the contrary, Johnson has consistently maintained that she has ‘absolutely no intention of changing the new policy’ ... And for good reason: the new policy — which has been in effect for nearly six months — constitutes an entirely new way of doing business at the Secretary of State,” Edmunds wrote.

State laws vary to amend gender on birth certificates.

Some states refuse to amend it without a court order; some refuse to change the gender on a birth certificate unless an individual has undergone gender confirmation surgery; some allow the change without requiring either surgery or a court order; and some do not allow the gender on a birth certificate to be corrected under any circumstances.


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