San Francisco, April 14, 2009 – In a groundbreaking victory for transgender people born in California, the California Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that individuals can petition a California court to amend their California birth certificates regardless of their current states of residence. Previously, only current California residents could bring these petitions in California courts.
In a unanimous decision, the California Court of Appeal held that all people born in California, regardless of where they currently reside, can petition a California court for a new birth certificate. The strongly-worded decision was authored by Presiding Judge James J. Marchiano, who stated that “we discern no compelling state interest in treating California-born transgender individuals who reside out of state differently from California-born transgender individuals who reside in California when either class seeks issuance of a new California birth certificate.”
The case was brought by the Transgender Law Center (TLC) on behalf of Gigi Marie Somers. Ms. Somers, a sixty-seven year old transgender woman, was born in California and now lives in Kansas. Ms. Somers underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2005 and has lived as a woman for a decade. When she sought to have a new California birth certificate issued reflecting her female gender, she learned that out-of-state residents were required to obtain a court order from the state in which they resided. Unfortunately, Ms. Somers was not able to obtain a court ordered gender change from her county of residence in Kansas. Left in legal limbo and unable to change her birth certificate, Ms. Somers contacted TLC for help. After the San Francisco Superior Court denied her petition due to the residency requirement, TLC Legal Director Kristina Wertz represented Ms. Somers before the Court of Appeal.
“We are pleased that the Court of Appeal did the right thing for Ms. Somers and recognized her right to change her birth certificate,” said Ms. Wertz. “No one who is born in California should be denied the opportunity to change their birth certificate simply because they are transgender and have moved out of state. Ms. Somers can now rest assured that her birth record will always reflect who she truly is, a right that all people born in California enjoy. This is a landmark victory for transgender people all over the country.”
“I brought this petition because I did not feel that my transition would be complete until my birth certificate showed who I am. Everybody in my life accepts me for who I am, and I wanted to make sure my officials records did too,” said Ms. Somers. “I am extremely happy about this victory and grateful for all the work that TLC has done on my behalf.”
The decision also represents a victory for older transgender people. “It is courageous for a person at any age to fight for their identity. But to have a woman at the age of 67 seek recognition in two states to have her gender identity acknowledged takes remarkable bravery,” said Karen Taylor, Director of Advocacy & Training at Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). “SAGE has many constituents who spent decades hiding who they were, living under terrible oppression and fear. We understand and celebrate the courage of all older adults who dare to step forward and demand to be acknowledged for who they are. Ms. Somers is an inspiration to all who seek justice and equal treatment, at any age.”
“We applaud the Transgender Law Center for winning this truly significant victory,” said Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California (EQCA). EQCA is currently sponsoring the Equal ID Bill in the California legislature, which will statutorily ensure that transgender individuals can change their California birth certificates no matter where they presently live. Mr. Kors continued, “Our bill can now stand on the shoulders of this week’s landmark decision. Together, we are moving toward full equality for transgender people in California and across the country.”
The decision, Somers v. Superior Court , is currently available here.