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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Trans Michiganders no longer need proof of sex-reassignment surgery to change birth certificates

the trans pride flag the transgender pride flag
Sharon McCutcheon
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Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued an opinion calling Michigan's requirement of proof of sex-reassignment surgery to change the gender on an individual's birth certificate "unconstitutional."

This comes after Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director, Elizabeth Hertel, made a formal request for the attorney general's opinion regarding the issue in February. 

Previously, the only way a transgender person could change the sex designation on their birth certificate was with an affidavit from a physician certifying that sex-reassignment surgery had been performed. Nessel said that this requirement created "a discriminatory double standard" for trans people.

"As written, it is a tool of intolerance that treats one group of people different from the rest of us by requiring thousands of residents to undergo expensive and invasive medical procedures in order to amend their birth certificates to reflect their true identity," Nessel wrote.

She also pointed out that birth certificates aren't always biologically accurate and can be changed: if a child is born to a married couple, both parents are listed on the birth certificate, regardless of who conceived the child. Birth certificates can also be changed later in life to reflect a child's adoption.

"The fact that the state readily accounts for and acknowledges such biological falsity — sometimes even from birth — cuts against the importance of any state interest in maintaining the accuracy of vital records in regard to the biology of the child," Nessel wrote.

Erin Knott is the executive director of Equality Michigan. She cites a University of California, Los Angeles study which estimates that 78% of trans adults in Michigan have no IDs that list their correct gender. Knott says Nessel's opinion is a victory, and that it's important for trans people to be able to change their assigned sex at birth.

"People experience substantial barriers to having identity documents or state IDs that list their correct gender, and these inaccurate IDs subject individuals to things like harassment, discrimination, and can negatively impact one’s mental health," Knott says.

She says the AG's opinion is especially welcome news on the final day of Pride Month, and hopes that the state will consider other LGBTQ-affirming measures and legislation, like banning conversion therapy.

"While we celebrate today’s good news, there’s still a lot of work to be done as it relates to making sure that transgender individuals here in Michigan have an equitable playing field as it relates to just going about their daily lives."

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel says the department is working on establishing a process for trans Michiganders to initiate changes to birth certificates. Knott says that when these guidelines become available, Equality Michigan will work with its partners to ensure trans people have the information they need.

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