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Judge halts Montana birth certificate law affecting transgender citizens

Judge halts Montana birth certificate law affecting transgender citizens
Posted at 4:03 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-21 18:03:08-04

HELENA — Yellowstone County District Court judge paused a new law Thursday that required transgender Montanans to get surgery and a court order before the state would affirm their gender identity on their birth certificate.

The suit was filed in July 2021 by two transgender Montanans who requested the law not take effect until after the case was decided in court. District Court Judge Michael G. Moses granted their request about a year after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 280 into law on April 30, 2021. While Moses' order is in place, transgender Montanans can request a change to the sex on their birth certificate through a process established in 2017, which did not require surgery or court proceedings.

Both Gianforte's office and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services are defendants in the lawsuit. Both offices declined to comment on the ongoing litigation and did not say whether they planned to appeal Moses' order.

In his decision, Moses said the law interferes with a person’s right to privacy and right to be free from state meddling in a person’s medical treatment.

“To obtain a court order, plaintiffs must publicly disclose confidential, intimate details of their medical treatment,” Moses wrote. “Only transgender individuals are subjected to these procedures and burdens in order to have a birth certificate that accurately reflects their gender.”

The suit was filed in state District Court in Billings by two transgender Montanans who said the law violates their right to privacy and equal protection under the law. The lawsuit also brought up the laws vague wording. For instance, the law requires transgender people to undergo "surgical procedures" and submit proof in order to change their birth certificate, but it does not define what surgeries qualify. One of the plaintiffs, who is not named in the lawsuit, is a man who is transgender. He underwent surgery to make his chest more masculine, according to court documents. He does not know whether that surgery would be enough to get his birth certificate corrected.

The other plaintiff, Amelia Marquez, is a Billings woman who is transgender. She called Moses' decision protected the most vulnerable Montanans.

Senate Bill 280 was passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The bill passed by fairly close margins – 26-23 in the Senate and 54-46 in the House – with all “yes” votes coming from Republican lawmakers.

The law repealed a rule put in place by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration in 2017, allowing transgender citizens to change their birth-certificate sex with a signed statement and some minimal documentation.

This story was updated with additional information.