Senate rejects bill to clarify the process for transgender Utahns to legally change their gender designation

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Two transgender Utahns who have been denied a legal sex designation by a state judge are challenging the ruling, asking the Utah Supreme Court to overturn the decision. Sean Childers-Gray and Angie Rice, pictured, believe the state laws that apply to legal name changes also allows for a sex designation petition to be granted, something that's been done dozens of times statewide even though 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde said the law didn't give him the authority to grant the requests.

After facing bipartisan opposition, the Legislature’s attempt to clarify a transgender person’s right to select their own legal gender designation failed to pass the Senate on Friday.

Opposition also came from the transgender community over the final version of the proposal, under which a person who changes his or her birth certificate to update gender identity would have included a note showing the document had been amended.

The final version of SB138 also would have set up a process only for adults, and lawmakers voted against an amendment from Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, to allow children under 18 years old to undergo the process.

Sen. Todd Weiler, a Woods Cross Republican who sponsored the bill, said the final bill was a compromise that he acknowledged upset LGBT groups and conservative groups. He said that was an indication he’d struck a good compromise. It would have allowed an amended birth certificate to note whether someone was male, female or other.

Weiler spent much of the session working on the bill, which he said led to numerous emails from people who opposed his helping transgender people, before its failure.

He said he took up the effort because courts have been unclear. The Utah Supreme Court recently heard arguments on a related case, but has yet to issue an opinion.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, the only openly gay member in the Legislature, urged more tolerance and understanding on the issue and said the concept of the bill was about personal freedom.

“We don’t have to approve it, we don’t have to understand it, we don’t have to say it’s OK. We don’t have to say we’re not in favor of it or even we’re repulsed by it,” Dabakis said. “We give people the freedom to make those decisions.”

The bill failed by a margin of 16-10.

Feb. 1: Bill proposes statewide policy for transgender people in Utah seeking to change their legal gender designation

Some Utah judges now grant applications to people who seek to legally change their gender designation, but others refuse all requests. A bill unveiled Thursday would clearly allow judges to grant such applications — if petitioners meet some basic standards.

It comes as the Utah Supreme Court is already considering a case on whether current law allows granting such petitions.

“Right now judges are forced to legislate from the bench because I believe the Legislature has failed in its duty” to outline how and when gender-switch petitions should be granted, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsor of SB138.

He said a Utah law on the books since the 1950s has allowed people to petition for legal name and gender changes.

“I doubt that was originally intended for transgender, but that’s how it’s being used,” he said. “Some judges are denying them. Some are granting them.”

Weiler, an attorney, adds, “There’s actually no guidance on what factors to consider to get a petition. So whether you are for or against this issue, you should be for the Legislature saying … these are what factors you should be looking at.”

The new bill would allow gender-change petitions as long as the petitioner is not on probation or parole; is not seeking the change to avoid creditors or others with claims against him or her; is not doing so for any fraudulent motive; and has been a resident of the county for a year.

It requires a hearing and a petition outlining the reasons for the requested change. It says judges may grant the application if he or she finds there “exists proper cause for granting the change of legal gender.”

Weiler said he is not requiring sex-change surgery or other such steps as a precursor to someone obtaining a change of gender designation, and would allow people to choose the gender with which they identify.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, said the one goal he hopes lawmakers will seek with such legislation is “to treat people as human beings…. People ought to be given the human right to make that choice about what their gender is. It shouldn’t be made by others.”

The bill comes as Angie Rice and Sean Childers-Gray have appealed to the Utah Supreme Court a refusal by a 2nd District judge to grant a legal change in gender. He said current law did not give him the power to do so. The high court heard arguments last month in that case.

Weiler said his bill is not trying to tell justices how to rule, and his bill should not affect the outcome because it would not be retroactive.