Transgender plaintiffs’ challenge to Oklahoma ban on changing birth certificates revived

By Thomson Reuters Jun 18, 2024 | 4:43 PM

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit challenging an Oklahoma law prohibiting transgender people from changing their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court wrongly dismissed the case, finding that the law discriminates against transgender people without any rational basis.

“This ruling stands as a monumental win for the transgender community in Oklahoma and nationwide, sending a clear message to lawmakers everywhere that unconstitutional discrimination against transgender people will not be tolerated by the courts,” Peter Renn of Lambda Legal, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the office was disappointed with the decision and reviewing its options.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, issued an executive order against changing birth certificates in 2021 after learning that the state had issued an amended birth certificate for someone who identified as non-binary, or neither male nor female. The governor said in a statement at the time that he believed “people are created by God to be male or female. Period.”

In 2022, the state legislature passed a law codifying the ban. Three transgender people sued to challenge it, saying it discriminated against them on the basis of their transgender status and sex.

A lower court judge dismissed the case, finding that transgender status was not legally protected and that the law did not discriminate on the basis of sex.

That conclusion was wrong, 10th Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh wrote on Tuesday, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that sex discrimination extends to sexual orientation and gender identity under a federal employment law.

She noted that the state might be able to overcome the challenge if it could show it had a strong enough reason for the policy.

“But there must be some rational connection between the policy and a legitimate state interest,” she wrote. “There is no rational connection here – the policy is in search of a purpose.”

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)