District Judge Michael Moses Montana to Allow Transgender People to Change Sex on Birth Certificates
District Judge Says State Authorities Deliberately Failed to Follow His Previous Directive on This Matter
After months of resistance, Montana's health department said Monday it will comply with the judge's decision and temporarily allow transgender people to change their gender on their birth certificates.
On Monday, a judge issued an order saying employees The department committed “deliberate violations” of its decision. A court previously ordered them to temporarily stop enforcing a law that prevents transgender people from changing the gender on their birth certificates unless they have undergone surgery.
District Judge Michael Moses said Monday that he will immediately consider motions for contempt of court for continued violations of his April ruling, which he clarified in an oral order at Thursday's hearing. Hours after that hearing, the Republican state said it would not comply with the ruling and would keep in place the rule against changes to birth certificates unless they were due to a registrar error.
On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a statement saying that it will comply with the order, although it does not agree with it.
“It is unfortunate that it took two very clear court orders and many months to enforce law,” said Alex Reith, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented two transgender plaintiffs who want to have their birth certificates changed.
“But from the point of view of Montana's transgender residents who are striving to have accurate identification documents, today's announcement is certainly progress,” Reith said.
In April, Moses temporarily blocked legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. which requires transgender people to undergo a surgical procedure and obtain a court order before they can change their gender on their birth certificates. According to him, the law was vague because it did not specify what kind of operation was required.
Instead of reverting to a 2017 rule allowing transgender people to apply to the Department of Health to change their gender on their birth certificates, the state has issued an executive order that a person's gender cannot be changed, even after surgery.
Moses pointed out that the department “in violation of the ordinance refused to make corrections to birth certificates for several weeks.” The state also did not appeal Moses' decision.
Such open defiance of a court order is very unusual for a state institution, said Carl Tobias, a former professor at the University of Montana School of Law and now at the University of Richmond. According to him, when officials do not agree with the decision, they usually go to a higher court.
“It is the appeal that comes to mind, and not that you can simply nullify the decision of the judge. Otherwise, people simply will not comply with the laws,” Tobias said. “The system can’t work like that.”