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Transgender people can now change their name and gender on their birth certificate in Ohio state. The decision was made on December 16, 2020, by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
The lawsuit was won after 2 years by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Ohio, and Thompson Hine LLP on behalf of 4 Ohio plaintiffs.
Judge Michael Watson struck down the state law that prevented an individual who identified as transgender to change gender-relevant information on their birth certificate. Attorney General Dave Yost is weighing whether to appeal the decision.
Before the ruling, transgender people of Ohio could not amend their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity. This means that there was no possibility to change their gender marker and non-binary options were not available.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that the resulting discrepancy between names and gender markers on official ID documents and the perceived gender identities of their holders caused one-third of survey respondents to suffer harrassment, discrimination, assault and/or see benefits and services denied.
Moreover, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute’s 2020 State Equality Index found that Ohio is among the 28 highest-risk U.S. states for discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
In 2018, Stacie Ray, Basil Argento, Ashley Breda, and Jane Doe filed a lawsuit to change the Ohio Vital Records policy. Ruling in their favor, Judge Watson found the Ohio law on birth certificate amendments to be ‘discriminatory’ and ‘unconstitutional’.
The state’s arguments to defend the Ohio Vital Records law included making sure that ‘accurate records’ were maintained, especially against individuals who “use Ohio birth certificates to perpetuate fraud."
The judge found this reasoning to be “nothing more than thinly veiled post-hoc rationales to deflect from the discriminatory impact of the Policy.”
Moreover, in his decision, Judge Watson wrote:
“This policy resembles the sort of discrimination-based legislation struck down under the equal protection clause in Romer v. Evans as nothing more than a policy 'born of animosity toward the class of person affected' that has 'no rational relation to a legitimate government purpose’.”
After the ruling, Stacie Ray commented: “This is truly a victory for the LGBT community, in every aspect.”
Kara Ingelhart, staff attorney at Lambda Legal, added:
“Finally, transgender people from Ohio will be able to correct their birth certificates so that this necessary identity document is consistent with their gender identities. Accurate birth certificates are essential. They are foundational to our ability to access a variety of benefits such as employment and housing, and to navigate the world freely and safely, as who we truly are. Courts across the country have overwhelmingly determined these archaic and harmful laws are unconstitutional and today we are closer than ever to eradicating them once and for all.”
Malita Picasso, Skadden Fellow, ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, also celebrated the victory: “Trans people are the experts on our own genders, lives, and needs. I’m thrilled that the court recognized that policies like Ohio’s, which misgender and endanger us, also violate the Constitution. We will keep fighting until we get rid of all discriminatory and burdensome requirements for ID changes around the country.”
Obtaining a gender neutral birth certificate is possible in the U.S., depending on the local state law on transgender birth certificates.
In Illinois, for example, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a gender designation bill which became law in 2019, mandating gender-neutral “X” designations be added to all state forms.
Other states that include a gender-neutral option on their birth certificates include:
However, some state lawmakers show the opposite trend. In South Dakota, a bill is being discussed in Senate to forbid transgender individuals from changing their gender designation on their birth certificate. The ACLU of South Dakota announced that it will sue the state under the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment should the bill become law.
Tennessee remains the only state applying the policy that was just amended in Ohio, after Kansas reached a consent agreement with Lambda Legal and the state was ordered by the court to start issuing amended birth certificates.