SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A proposal that would have blocked transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates in Utah was shelved Thursday, prompting relief from LGBT advocates but leaving the issue in limbo.
The legislation would have reversed longstanding practice in many parts of the state and had prompted warnings that it could put Utah in a negative national spotlight as Salt Lake City tries to attract a future Winter Olympics.
“I don’t think anyone in Utah, including the governor, would want to do anything to put at risk attracting Fortune 500 companies and international sporting events,” Republican Sen. Todd Weiler said.
He had a competing proposal to create a clear process for changing gender on state documents, but he also decided to put it on hold for the year.
Nationally, the landscape is mixed – with Tennessee, Kansas and Ohio passing laws to prohibit gender changes on birth certificates, but similar laws overturned in Idaho and Puerto Rico.
In Utah, Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson’s proposal would have declared gender characteristics determined at birth to be “innate and immutable.”
That reasoning is in line with the state’s predominant religion, the Mormon church, which teaches that gender is part is part of a person’s “eternal God-given identity and purpose” and discourages transgender operations.
Nelson, who is an attorney at a firm that frequently represents The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he was not influenced by religious beliefs but wanted to clarify an ambiguous process.
His proposal would have allowed older teenagers and adults to change their driver’s licenses.
Mormon church spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment on Nelson’s bill.
Nelson said there was too much disagreement to address this issue this year.
Troy Williams of the group Equality Utah applauded his decision to pull the bill Thursday, saying “it would have been devastating to the transgender community.”
The issue came to the forefront last year when two people appealed to the Utah Supreme Court after a judge cited ambiguity in the law and refused to grant court orders required to change state documents. There has not yet been a ruling in that case.
The decision by lawmakers on both sides to set the issue aside for the year leaves the issue in limbo for people like Dex Rumsey, 14. He came out as transgender two years ago, a change he said has erased his anger and suicidal thoughts. But the female gender he was born with remains on his birth certificate, and is frequently listed on school documents like his online work portal and class schedules. When other teenagers see it, they whisper, tease or bully him.
“It makes me feel unsafe, having everyone aware and know about it because it’s just constantly on display,” he said.
His mother Robyn Rumsey said she has started the process to revise her son’s birth certificate to reflect the change that’s made him into a happier, healthier kid. But they live in Weber County, an area where judges don’t always grant the changes.
“I think that’s a basic right for these transgender people to be who they are,” she said. But “we’re realizing this is very heated topic for some people.”
Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.
- Read full text of bill: Utah 2019 HB 153 — Utah Vital Statistics Act Amendment.
- Bill sponsor: Rep. Merrill Nelson | Co-sponsor Sen. Ralph Okerlund.
- Southern Utah Sens. Evan Vickers, Don Ipson, David Hinkins and Ralph Okerlund | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Travis Seegmiller, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, Rex Shipp, Merrill Nelson and Phil Lyman | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
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