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Court rules against Ohio’s ban on birth certificate changes for trans Ohioans

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The U.S. District Court in Southern Ohio ruled today in favor of four transgender plaintiffs who sued the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Office of Vital Statistics (Ray v. McCloud) for the right to allow individuals to change the sex marker on their birth certificates.

Ohio had been one of only two states (alongside Tennessee) to prohibit citizens from making this change.

On March 29, 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit, alleging that the Ohio government has violated the equal protection, due process, and free speech rights of Stacie Ray, Basil Argento, Ashley Breda, and a fourth, unnamed plaintiff.

Although trans Ohioans had previously been allowed to make this change, the judgment notes that sometime in 2015, the Ohio Department of Health reviewed its birth certificate policy and decided to “no longer permit changes to the sex marker on Ohio birth certificates when the basis for that change was that the person was transgender.” This prohibition was enacted despite Ohio continuing to allow other alternations to birth certificates for other reasons such as adoptions and legal name changes.

In his opinion, Judge Michael H. Watson reiterated earlier judgments that found that refusing to change birth certificates to reflect gender identity “implicates a release of personal information that is of a ‘sexual, personal, and humiliating nature’ and ‘could lead to bodily harm.’”

In response to the State of Ohio’s argument that the plaintiffs had not introduced evidence showing they were harmed after forced disclosure of their birth certificates, Judge Watson wrote, “requiring Plaintiffs to actually be harmed before having a cognizable claim would not only be legally incorrect, it would be an untenable proposition.”

The State of Ohio further argued that prohibiting transgender Ohioans from changing the sex marker on their birth certificate would create more accurate records and prevent fraud. Judge Watson dismissed these claims writing that Ohio’s “proffered justifications are nothing more than thinly veiled post-hoc rationales to deflect from the discriminatory impact of the Policy.”

The ruling represents a major victory for transgender Ohioans.

“Today’s ruling affirms that the state must recognize the dignity and true identity of every transgender Ohioan,” said ACLU of Ohio attorney Elizabeth Bonham, in a press release. “It is incredibly frustrating that our clients faced years of unlawful discrimination, but today we celebrate this victory as an acknowledgement to their commitment to justice.”

In an e-mail sent to supporters following the ruling, Equality Ohio explained that the “next step is for the Ohio Department of Health to update its procedures for correcting birth certificate gender markers” and encouraged individuals to contact the Equality Ohio Legal Clinic through their virtual legal intake if they have other legal needs.  

This story was originally printed by The Buckeye Flame.

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