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FILE: A view of Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City. (Johanna Workman, Deseret News Archives)
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State Supreme Court Rules Transgender Utahns Can Change Gender Markers

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that transgender residents can change their name and gender marker on their birth certificates.

The court ruled in favor of the appellants 4-1 and a 128-page ruling was issued Thursday morning, around three-and-a-half years after the case was filed.

“A person has a common-law right to change facets of their personal legal status, including their sex designation,” the justices wrote in their opinion. “In recognition of this right, the Utah legislature has statutorily declared that, as a matter of the public policy of this state, when ‘a person born in this state has a name change or sex change approved by an order of a Utah district court,’ they can file such order with the state registrar with an application to change their birth certificate. If the registrar determines the application is complete, the registrar must change the sex on the person‘s birth certificate.”

Two transgender Utah residents were denied a change in their sex designation on their driver’s licenses by a state judge in 2016.

Second District Judge Noel Hyde granted the name changes but said a lack of clarity in state law precludes him from granting a change in their gender identity.

The appellants asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

“We are grateful that our clients’ right to live as their authentic selves has been upheld by the court,” attorney Chris Wharton said. “While the decision was a long time coming, there is nothing radical about the outcome — the right to be treated equally regardless of which county or judicial district you are in.”

The majority opinion was written by Justice Constandinos “Deno” Himonas, who was joined by Justices John A. Pearce and Paige Petersen.

Associate Chief Justice Thomas R. Lee dissented while Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant filed an opinion concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment.

The Transgender Education Advocates of Utah said Thursday’s ruling “should apply a standard for changing gender markers statewide. Previously, some judges would grant these orders while others would not — leaving many transgender Utahns waiting on the courts or simply unable to update their documents.”

The Supreme Court said since the district court approved the name changes in this case — “finding no ‘wrongful or fraudulent purpose'” — the gender changes should also be approved because the two changes are connected.

In his opinion, Justice Durrant said:

“As the majority notes, the terms “sex change” and “name change” are bundled together. The legislature makes no attempt in the statute to distinguish them in any way, including with respect to the standard of proof. Certainly, a sex change is far more momentous than a name change. An individual‘s sex is considerably more consequential, both in substance and legal implication, than an individual‘s name. But the fact that these two kinds of changes are very different matters, both in magnitude and legal consequence, does not appear, given how the statute is structured, to be the focus of the legislature. Rather, the legislature appears to be focused on the way in which they are similar — they are both identifiers on a birth certificate. My reading of the statute suggests that for purposes of birth certificate amendment, and I emphasize this limited scope, the legislature intended that name changes and sex changes be treated in the same way, including in the standard of proof to which they are subject. The statute certainly includes nothing to suggest they should be treated differently.”

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