Lawsuit Challenging Ohio’s Birth Certificate Policy: An Exciting Update!

Ohio’s Treatment of Transgender People Out of Line

You may have heard that Ohio has the unfortunate distinction of being one of only two states in the entire United States that refuses to allow a person to correct the gender marker on their birth certificate. Ohio’s partner in embarrassment is the state of Tennessee. Both states’ discriminatory policies are currently being challenged in federal court. 

Ohio’s lawsuit began in March 2018 when the ACLU of Ohio, Lambda Legal, and ACLU National filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. They sued on behalf of four transgender people born in Ohio who have suffered harm as a result of their incorrect birth certificates and current inability to change them.

A Win in Court

Like most federal court litigation, the case has been proceeding slowly. In July 2018, the defendants—Ohio Department of Health’s director Lance Himes and Ohio Office of Vital Statistics’ chief Karen Sorrell and state registrar Judith Nagy—filed a motion, asking the judge to dismiss the case entirely. Just last week the judge issued a favorable decision that refused to grant an attempt by Ohio to get the case thrown out—meaning the lawsuit challenging the discriminatory policy can continue. This is a major victory for Ohio! The case will now proceed forward—and hopefully, it will take the same path that several other federal cases have recently, resulting in rulings fully supporting transgender individuals having the right to change the gender markers on their core documents.

Additionally, the court’s recent decision contains very promising language where, for example, it clearly acknowledges that transgender people’s fundamental rights are harmed because they are threatened with injury, violence, and discrimination by having a birth certificate that essentially “outs” them every time they are required to present it. The court’s order also acknowledges that transgender individuals have a fundamental right in preserving the intimate information of being transgender if they so wish to keep that information private. And with a footnote on the very first page of the 33-page decision, the court uses the correct pronouns for plaintiffs throughout the opinion and later acknowledges when other courts have used outdated terms.

What’s Next

We celebrate with our friends at the ACLU of Ohio, Lambda Legal, ACLU National, and their clients in this victory and thank them for their leadership in challenging Ohio’s harmful policy!

Next steps: The lawsuit will now move forward with discovery (exchange of documents and testimony) and further briefing of other legal stages (e.g., Summary Judgment) of the case.