Supreme Court Says Lower Court Can Order Change of Sex in Birth Certificate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A state district court can order a person’s birth certificate to be changed to reflect the sex of the person’s choice, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

However, Justice Keith Kautz, in a companion opinion, said his fellow justices went too far in ruling the lower court can change the facts in a birth certificate.

“The narrow issue in this case is whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over (the request for an order changing the birth certificate),” his special concurrence said. “I write separately because I believe the majority inappropriately ventures beyond that point to implicitly interpret and advise on the applicability of (state law and Department of Health rules).”

The case stems from a request by a person identified only as “M.H.” for the district court to order a change in the person’s birth certificate. Although born a male, M.H. now identifies as a female, the ruling said.

The individual asked the Department of Health, which maintains birth certificates, to change her birth certificate so that it would show she was born a female.

Department of Health rules allow for such changes if ordered by a court, so M.H. approached the district court in Laramie County for such an order.

However, the district court judge ruled that while Department of Health rules allow for such changes, state law does not give district court authority to make such changes.

The lower court argued that while state law specifically allows for a change of name on a birth certificate, it does not specifically allow for a change of sex.

But justices said state law does not specifically forbid such a change, so the district court has the authority to order such a change.

“When the Legislature has limited the jurisdiction of the district courts, it has done so expressly,” the majority opinion said.

Changes to correct a birth certificate must be allowed to maintain accurate records, justices said.

“If a person’s sex — or any other information on a vital record — is incorrect, inability to amend that information would undermine the accuracy of her vital records,” the opinion said.

However, Kautz argued that such a change would alter the historical facts surrounding a birth.

“The purpose of a birth certificate is to record ‘the facts of the birth,’” he wrote. “If the birth certificate inaccurately states the ‘facts of the birth,’ then amendment to the birth certificate is warranted.

“… Allowing (M.H.) to change her ‘sex’ merely because she now identifies as a ‘female’ or she has since had a ‘sex-change’ surgery (which is unclear from the record) undermines the integrity and accuracy of her birth certificate as it would no longer reflect the facts of her birth,” he continued.

The Supreme Court was not given enough facts in the case to determine whether such a change to a birth certificate would be warranted, Kautz said.

“Analysis of these points requires much more than what was presented to us and much more than what is presented in the majority opinion,” he wrote. “If those issues were fully addressed, we may reach an entirely different conclusion on them.”

The case was returned to state district court for further proceedings.

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