Utah Bill Seeks to Block Gender Changes on Birth Certificates

Merrill Nelson

Some Utah lawmakers want to make it impossible to change the gender on a birth certificate.

House Bill 153, to be considered in the legislative session that begins next week, defines gender as “the innate and immutable characteristics established at conception,” The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Females, it states, have ovaries and “external anatomical characteristics that appear to have the purpose of performing the natural reproductive function of providing eggs and receiving sperm from a male donor.” Males are people with testes and the “reproductive function of providing and delivering sperm to a female recipient.”

The current law on birth certificate gender changes is murky, and the Utah Supreme Court is reviewing it. Meanwhile, “government agencies have applied their own, and often inconsistent, interpretations, and judges have pinballed between granting and denying requests,” the Tribune reports.

If HB 153 becomes law, it would primarily affect transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people. But its chief sponsors deny that they’re motivated by prejudice.

“This bill is not motivated by any form of ‘phobia’ or hate,” Rep. Merrill Nelson, a Republican, said in a written statement to the Tribune, “but only by a desire to maintain the integrity of the birth certificate and to provide clarity and consistency to an otherwise ambiguous statute that has produced conflicting results. ... A person’s sex is no more subject to change than a person’s age.”

He also said the legislation “is based on the scientific and medical fact that an individual’s sex is determined at conception by chromosomal make-up and is not subject to change or self-determination later in life.”

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, the Republican who is sponsoring the bill in his chamber, told the Tribune that it “just makes sense to me.”

“It’s a vital statistic, one that’s created when a person is born,” he said. “What is a physical fact at birth, gender, is put on the birth certificate and should stay at all times of life.” In limited cases, it would allow gender to be listed as undetermined and filled in later, but changes between male and female would not be possible.

LGBTQ rights advocates called the bill unconstitutional and discriminatory. Its definitions of gender are deeply problematic, said Sean Childers-Gray, a transgender man involved in a state Supreme Court case focusing on whether a judge has the authority to approve gender changes on birth certificates.

“What if you’re not born with ovaries? What if you can’t have children?” he told the Tribune. “Not everyone can do that. I’m sure this will be ripped apart by many, many lawyers.”

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said the bill is not only unconstitutional but motivated by anti-trans animus. “Nelson has made zero effort to get to know the transgender community and understand the complexities of their lives and yet he’s willing to legislate in a way that harms them,” he said.

Nelson works for a law firm that represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is on record as saying “gender is eternal.” He has denied that his legislation has any connection with the church, however.

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