Kansas officials are no longer required to change trans people’s birth certificates, judge says

by Lucas Garcia
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Transgender Rights

A recent development has emerged in Kansas, where officials are no longer obligated to alter birth certificates for transgender individuals, according to a ruling by a federal judge. This ruling, made by U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree, has permitted Kansas authorities to cease modifying birth certificates to align with the gender identities of transgender individuals.

The decision was influenced by a request from Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach, who sought to halt these changes due to a newly enacted state law that has rolled back certain transgender rights. Kansas has now joined the ranks of Montana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in implementing restrictions on birth certificate modifications for transgender individuals.

Notably, Kansas stands as one of the few states where transgender individuals are also prohibited from updating their driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identities. This additional restriction stems from a separate lawsuit filed by Kobach in a state court last month. Both the birth certificate and driver’s license limitations are responses to the aforementioned state law, which became effective on July 1.

Under this law, the terms “male” and “female” are defined as the sex assigned at birth, based on an individual’s “biological reproductive system.” These definitions are applied to any other state laws or regulations. Despite Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto, the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted the law, citing biological sex as the determinant. However, Governor Kelly expressed her intention to continue birth certificate changes, citing legal opinions from her administration’s attorneys.

Judge Crabtree has consented to altering the agreement that previously allowed transgender individuals in Kansas to modify their birth certificates. Nevertheless, he asserted that the ultimate decision on the constitutionality of the new law will rest with a state court. Crabtree indicated that disputes over the interpretation of Kansas law should be settled in a Kansas state courthouse, provided there are no federal law-related issues.

In the realm of federal court, Attorney General Kobach has achieved success in overturning a policy that had been implemented during Governor Kelly’s administration. This policy change followed a 2018 lawsuit involving four transgender individuals who contested a prior Republican policy of no alterations to birth certificates. The settlement of this lawsuit, which took place a few months into Governor Kelly’s term, mandated the state to begin modifying birth certificates for transgender individuals. Since then, over 900 individuals have undergone this process.

Kobach emphasized that the legal battle was initiated to uphold the letter of the law. He asserted that the Kansas Legislature’s stance was clear in its mandate for birth certificates to reflect biological sex. The court’s ruling reaffirms this legislative intent.

The issue at hand prompted arguments from both transgender Kansas residents and Governor Kelly. They contended that refusing to modify birth certificates for transgender individuals would infringe upon rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, an assertion that Judge Crabtree also upheld when he approved the 2018 settlement. In contrast, Kobach contended that the new state law represented a significant change that nullified the requirements of the settlement.

In a separate state-court lawsuit concerning driver’s licenses, a district judge has ordered a halt to ID changes until at least November 1.

The enactment of the new Kansas law reflects a wider trend in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the U.S. this year. Several measures have been introduced to scale back transgender rights.

Additionally, the law declares that the state has a vested interest in safeguarding privacy, health, and safety, which justifies separate facilities—such as restrooms and changing rooms—for individuals of different genders. While supporters of the law claimed this would prevent transgender women and girls from using facilities designated for women, there is no official enforcement mechanism.

Kobach argued in a recent court filing that maintaining the 2019 settlement is “explicitly anti-democratic,” as it contradicts the new law. He cautioned against allowing state governments to be bound by consent agreements established by past officials, which may no longer be reflective of current sentiments or priorities.

The legal landscape surrounding this matter has seen its share of political dynamics, with Governor Kelly’s victory over Kobach in the 2018 gubernatorial election, followed by Kobach’s subsequent win in the attorney general race the following year. Both victories were achieved by narrow margins.

The plaintiffs who originally sued the state in 2018 raised concerns that siding with Kobach could pave the way for a return to policies that violate constitutional rights. Their legal representation has ardently argued against the interpretation presented by Kobach, comparing it to a scenario where states might ignore historic Supreme Court rulings, such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, if new laws were to be enacted.

While disappointed by the ruling, lead attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, from Lambda Legal, believes the law’s constitutionality will eventually be challenged and addressed. He emphasized the significance of accurate identity documents for transgender individuals, highlighting the increased vulnerabilities they face without them.

Josh Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska, and for updates on John Hanna’s coverage, please follow his presence on the X platform: [Twitter link: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna].

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Transgender Rights

What is the recent ruling in Kansas regarding transgender individuals’ birth certificates?

A federal judge recently ruled that Kansas officials are no longer obligated to change transgender people’s birth certificates to reflect their gender identities due to a new state law.

Why did the judge approve the request to block birth certificate changes?

The judge approved the request by Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach, who cited a new state law that rolls back trans rights as the reason for halting the changes.

How does Kansas compare to other states on this issue?

Kansas has joined Montana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in prohibiting birth certificate changes for transgender individuals, aligning with the new state law’s provisions.

What’s the impact on transgender individuals in Kansas?

Transgender individuals in Kansas are no longer able to change their birth certificates or driver’s licenses to match their gender identities, in response to the state law.

What does the new state law define regarding gender?

The law defines “male” and “female” based on the sex assigned at birth, using “biological reproductive system” as the criterion. This definition is applied to various state laws and regulations.

Why did Governor Laura Kelly’s administration support birth certificate changes?

Governor Kelly’s administration backed birth certificate changes despite the new law, citing legal opinions within her administration that supported these modifications.

What’s the judge’s stance on the constitutionality of the new law?

Judge Crabtree expressed hesitations about intervening in the interpretation of the new Kansas law, suggesting that disputes about the law’s meaning should be resolved in a state courthouse unless they involve federal law issues.

How does this ruling affect other legal battles?

Attorney General Kobach’s success in overturning a prior policy for birth certificate changes prompted him to argue that the new law nullified the previous settlement, sparking legal debates and challenges.

Is this a localized issue or part of a broader trend?

The new Kansas law reflects a broader trend in several Republican-controlled state legislatures across the U.S. this year, where measures have been introduced to scale back transgender rights.

What’s the significance of accurate identity documents for transgender individuals?

Accurate identity documents are crucial for transgender individuals to avoid discrimination, harassment, and violence, as emphasized by their legal representatives.

How does this ruling impact gender segregation policies?

The new law also justifies separate facilities for men and women based on privacy, health, and safety, with supporters claiming it prevents transgender individuals from using designated facilities.

What’s the stance of the lead attorney for transgender residents?

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, the lead attorney for transgender residents, believes the law will eventually be found unconstitutional, emphasizing its unlawful nature.

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