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Transgender citizens sue to invalidate birth-certificate law

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 3:02 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 20:11:52-04

HELENA — A transgender man and woman filed suit Friday to overturn a new Montana law requiring transgender citizens to get surgery and a court order before they can change the sex on their birth certificate, calling it an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

“I would like to change the sex designation on my birth certificate to match my female gender identity, but I am unable to do so because of the law,” said Amelia Marquez of Billings. “(It is) … a painful and stigmatizing reminder of the state of Montana’s refusal to recognize me as a woman.”

The suit, filed in state District Court in Billings with the help of ACLU-Montana, seeks to invalidate Senate Bill 280, which Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law in April.

The bill repealed a rule put in place by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration in 2017, allowing transgender citizens to change their birth-certificate sex with a signed statement and some minimal documentation.

Now, a transgender citizen in Montana must get a court order that says he or she has had their gender changed by “surgical procedure.”

The bill passed by fairly close margins – 26-23 in the Senate and 54-46 in the House – with all “yes” votes coming from Republican lawmakers.

The suit added to the growing number of GOP-passed 2021 laws being challenged as unconstitutional. As of Friday, at least 10 suits are pending in state and federal courts, challenging a dozen laws enacted this year.

The suit filed Friday says the new law makes it difficult, if not impossible, for transgender Montanans to change the sex designation on their birth certificates to conform to their gender.

It requires “public review of a person’s gender identity and medical treatment in order to amend an important government document,” and therefore is an unconstitutional invasion of that person’s privacy, the suit said.

The suit also said the law violates equal-protection rights, because it forces transgender citizens to undergo “burdensome procedures” that other citizens do not, and serves no legitimate purpose for the state.

Marquez said she neither can afford nor wants to undergo surgery right now, but would like to change the sex on her birth certificate, because being identified as a man can put her at risk of physical harm and discrimination.

“Ms. Marquez is typically perceived as female, so any time she is forced to present an identity document that incorrectly identifies her as male, she is forced to `out’ herself as transgender,” the suit said.

The other plaintiff – identified as John Doe – is a transgender man born in Gallatin County who now lives outside the state. He has undergone gender-affirming surgery, but does not want to have to provide documentation in court, to change his birth certificate.

“The fear of having to produce his medical records in a public forum, forcing him to out himself as transgender, is unconscionable,” said Akilah Lane, staff attorney for ACLU-Montana.