Federal Judge Guts Idaho’s Transphobic Birth Certificate Law

Idaho Governor Brad Little (center) at the White House with President Donald Trump and Nebraska Republican Governor Pete Ricketts.
Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque

A federal judge whose 2018 injunction barred the State of Idaho from blocking transgender people from updating their birth certificates in order to obtain identification documents reflecting their gender identity has stepped in to effectively squash a new state law that sought to ban trans Idahoans from doing just that.

Judge Candy Dale of the US District Court for the District of Idaho had already issued a warning to state officials in June, just months after Republican state lawmakers passed a pair of bills banning trans girls from participating in school sports and barring folks from updating the gender marker on their birth certificates. Those bills were swiftly signed into law by Governor Brad Little.

At the time of Dale’s warning, she noted that the birth certificate law seemed likely to lead to the automatic rejection of applications from individuals seeking to change their birth certificates to match their gender identity. The judge hesitated, however, to issue a new ruling since the state had yet to unveil the application process that individuals would encounter under the new law.

Those instructions from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) have since been released, giving Dale all she needed to step in again.

“IDHW’s revised instructions requiring applicants to submit ‘a court order pursuant to Idaho Code [§] 39-245A’ effectively denies transgender individuals a meaningful process for changing the sex listed on their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity,” Dale wrote in an August 7 ruling.

US District Court Judge Candy Dale.USCourts.gov

Dale went on to cast doubt on whether IDHW officials could possibly implement any regulatory scheme that would pass muster, noting that the law put officials there in a “difficult predicament” in complying with her 2018 injunction while delivering on the aim of the law Little signed in the spring.

“However, neither the constitutionality of the statute [n]or actions of any person or agency other than the IDHW are adjudicated here,” Dale explained. “The narrow question before the Court that is decided today is whether IDHW’s revised application form and instructions violate the Injunction. For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that they do.”

LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal has played a key role in advocating for the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals to update their birth certificates in the state. The group filed the original suit in 2017 that led to Dale’s 2018 injunction, arguing that denying trans people born in the state the right to update their birth certificates amounts to discrimination and invades privacy, liberty, and freedom from compelled speech. Lambda resumed its effort after Little signed the new measure into law, filing a motion with the federal court in April asking for confirmation of Dale’s 2018 ruling.

“It is astonishing that the Idaho legislature and Governor Little plowed forward with resuscitating this dangerous and archaic ban in direct defiance of multiple court orders that repeatedly ordered the government to stop discriminating against transgender people and placing them in harm’s way,” Nora Huppert, an attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a written statement. “The court could not have been clearer: What was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today. Idaho officials may not block transgender people from obtaining identity documents that reflect who they are. This law seeks to deny the very existence of transgender people by stripping them of their identity.”

Dale has a history of ruling on the side of the LGBTQ community. Six years ago, she struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in response to challenges issued by four couples.

“Idaho’s marriage laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted,” Dale wrote in 2014, one year before the US Supreme Court ushered in same-sex marriage rights nationwide. “By doing so, Idaho’s marriage laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.”

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