Utah affirms transgender right to change birth certificates

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the right of transgender people to change their sex designation on birth certificates Thursday, a ruling that came as a bright spot for advocates amid a wave of legislation targeting transgender people around the country.

Several states have passed bills banning transgender youth from sports teams that match their gender identity, and one, Arkansas, has blocked gender-confirming healthcare for youth.

Every U.S. state except Tennessee allows people to change their gender markers on birth certificates, though Montana lawmakers this year added a requirement for people to have surgery beforehand.

For transgender people, having a driver’s license or identification with “the wrong gender marker on it can force a transgender person to out themselves on a daily basis, putting them at risk for ridicule, discrimination and violence,” the group Transgender Education Advocates of Utah said in a statement.

The decision came after two people, Angie Rice and Sean Childers-Gray, were denied sex-designation changes by a Utah judge who said it was unclear whether he had the authority to approve it.

They came before the high court in 2018, pointing out that many other judges in the state had routinely granted them. The state did not fight their lawsuit.

The ruling removed legal ambiguity, clarifying that people do have the “common-law right” to change their sex designations, and Rice and Childers-Gray had met those requirements.

“This is a landmark victory for transgender Utahns,” said Troy Williams, executive director of the group Equality Utah, who also celebrated the rejection of two legislative bills targeting transgender youth. “This is what ‘equality under the law’ looks like.”

While nearly all U.S. states allow people to change their birth certificates, they differ on the process, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal. More than 30 states don’t require a court order; Utah is one of 17 that do.

The ruling showed “the importance of judges leaving up to their oath, which is to fairly and impartially apply the law,” Pagan said.