A conservative Utah legislator has withdrawn his bill that would make it impossible to change the gender on a birth certificate.
Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson pulled the legislation in order to give it more “time and study,” and he won’t bring it up again in this session, he told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News. It had been scheduled to be considered by a committee this afternoon.
The measure, House Bill 153, would have defined gender as “the innate and immutable characteristics established at conception.” Females, it said, 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.”
It would have created barriers to birth certificate changes that chiefly affected transgender and intersex people. Current Utah law on the matter is ambiguous and applied inconsistently, and the state Supreme Court is considering a case that may clarify the issue.
LGBTQ advocates expressed relief at the bill’s withdrawal. “Utah had introduced one of the most extreme, anti-trans, anti-science, and anti-woman bills that we had seen this legislative session, HB 153,” Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, told The Advocate. “In an attempt to restrict access to accurate identification documents for trans people born in Utah, the proposed bill attempted to codify definitions of ‘sex,’ ‘male’ and ‘female’ that would have hurt everyone.”
Pulling the bill, he said, “is a hugely important step for transgender people and avoids the many practical harms of the bill itself but also the damage of the debate over the bill, which would have likely invited vicious anti-trans rhetoric from across the country. Though the community achieved this important victory today in Utah, the threat of anti-trans bills moving quickly through the South Dakota legislature remains, and so we must stay vigilant and protect our trans family across the country.” The South Dakota House of Representatives this week approved a bill banning discussion of transgender identity in grades K-7 in public schools, and the Senate will consider it soon.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Deseret News that many Utah residents had spoken out against Nelson’s bill. “Thankfully Rep. Nelson heard those concerns,” he said. “He went out of his way to meet with the transgender community face to face to talk to them about the issues — and he listened.” The legislation, he said, would “essentially suggest transgender people don't have a legal right to exist.”
Sen. Todd Weiler has also withdrawn a related bill “that would have given judges clearer guidelines when they rule on requests to change birth certificates,” the Deseret News reports. He said he plans to revisit the issue at some point, but not in this session.
On this, Williams told the paper, “It’s clear we have a lot of education to do around transgender issues in the state, and we need to continue that.” But, he said, legislators are showing “compassion and goodwill … so I’m hopeful we can continue to engage lawmakers in the future.”