News & Politics

N.J. Governor Signs Bill Allowing Trans People to Change Birth Certificates Without Surgery

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This week, New Jersey’s Governor, Phil Murphy, signed bills allowing transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates, and to have that same gender identity reflected on their death certificates — even if they haven’t had a sex reassignment procedure.

Though New Jersey is one of many states whose anti-discrimination laws were expanded to include gender identity, this no doubt comes in response to a birth certificate lawsuit filed in New Jersey in 2016 on this particular topic.  Two years ago, plaintiff “Jane Doe” had gender dysphoria and wanted to change the gender on her birth certificate without undergoing gender-confirmation surgery. Since New Jersey at the time required gender-confirmation surgery before someone could receive a revised birth certificate with a different gender, she sued. At the time, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington all allowed people to get a different birth certificate without surgery.

“A birth certificate is a fundamental identification document and, without their gender being accurately stated on their birth certificates, trans people with gender dysphoria who have not undergone [surgery] may undergo suffering, emotional and mental distress,” the attorneys wrote in the suit.

In 2015, New Jersey’s legislature tried to pass a bill that would have allowed this, and twice, New Jersey’s Governor at the time, Chris Christie, vetoed that legislation saying he believes it to be “one of the most important legal documents that a person possesses” and that allowing a change would create “legal uncertainties.”

“Today is an important day for New Jersey as we continue to strive toward equality for all of our residents, regardless of sex or gender expression,” Murphy said in his announcement to sign the legislation. He also signed a measure a to create a Transgender Equality Task Force.

This move is particularly disconcerting not only because of the tremendous amount of effort put forth in terms of legislation for what amounts to less than a sliver of New Jersey’s population, but because legislation like this suspends belief in biology. It purports to cater to the feelings of transgender people, but what it actually does is tell society the state of New Jersey now believes gender is not observable or innate but fluid and interchangeable depending on feelings, dysphoria, or decisions later in life. I can’t even fathom a similar parallel in terms of science or law: Can Chris Christie just decide he wants to be governor again because he feels like it?

When a small fraction of the public asks the legal and political arm to suspend belief in biology to protect either a person’s feelings or psychological issues (dysphoria,) where does it end?