A new law notwithstanding, Idaho cannot summarily deny transgender people’s applications to change their sex on their birth certificates to match their gender identities, a federal judge said Monday.
Idaho has let transgender people change their birth certificates since 2018, when federal Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled the previous policy categorically disallowing such changes was unconstitutional. However, this year lawmakers passed House Bill 509, or the Idaho Vital Statistics Act, which bars most changes to birth certificates. Shortly after the bill took effect Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiffs in the 2018 F.V. v. Barron case, filed a motion asking Dale to clarify whether her 2018 injunction still applies. She ruled on Monday that it does and that the passage of House Bill 509 doesn’t change that.
“The Court clarifies that the plain language and objective of the Order and Judgment entered in this case permanently enjoin (the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare) from infringing on the constitutional rights of transgender individuals by automatically rejecting applications to change the sex listed on their birth certificates to match their gender identity,” Dale wrote. “The Injunction requires IDHW to institute a meaningful and constitutionally-sound process for accepting, reviewing, and considering applications from transgender individuals to amend the gender listed on their birth certificates.”
Dale declined for now to rule on the constitutionality of the bill or to grant Lambda Legal’s motion to specifically block the enforcement of House Bill 509 as violating the injunction, although she wrote the court would retain jurisdiction and could take these questions up in the future.
“While serious and formidable questions exist over the constitutionality of HB 509, whether HB 509 can pass constitutional muster is not yet before the Court and not decided here,” Dale wrote. “Likewise, whether enforcement of HB 509 violates the Injunction is not ripe.”
Lamba Lega’s Peter Renn, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, hailed the ruling.
“Like obeying speed limits and paying your taxes, Idaho state officials are not exempt from the duty to follow a court order,” he said. “Here, the court’s 2018 order plainly instructed state officials not to block transgender people from accessing accurate identity documents. The court has now confirmed that what was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today.”
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Kara Ingelhart said the group would “continue to protect against efforts to roll back the rights of transgender people born in Idaho,” and that identity documents that reflect one’s gender identity are necessary to navigate daily life and protect transgender people from harassment and violence.
“It is remarkable that we were even back in court on this issue, as a direct result of efforts by the Idaho Legislature and Governor (Brad) Little to turn back the clock on equality,” she said. “To force this law through, even as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, is even more inexcusable.”
House Bill 509 was sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, and passed with most Republican lawmakers in support of it and all the Democrats opposed. It and several other bills related to transgender rights were among the most controversial of the 2020 legislative session. Another law passed this year that bans transgender girls and women from female high school and college sports teams is also being challenged in court.
The Family Policy Alliance, a socially conservative group that backed Young’s bill, said the battle is “far from over,” noting that Dale didn’t rule directly on the bill’s constitutionality.
“We have confidence that our judicial system will agree that this law is necessary to protect the safety and health of the people of Idaho,” said Blaine Conzatti, the group’s director of advocacy. “Birth certificates are records of the facts as they existed at the time of birth. The Idaho Vital Statistics Act ensures that the most important of state vital records are kept factually accurate.”
Conzatti said law enforcement and criminal justice officials and public health experts need records that reflect the facts at the time of birth.
“Allowing individuals to change their birth certificate sex marker to match their subjective feelings instead of biological reality makes it harder for law enforcement to protect vulnerable populations like women and children,” he said.