Wyoming Supreme Court: Vital Records Include Sex Change Requests on Birth Certificates
The Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that a state district court was wrong to deny the petition of an individual, identified only as "M.H.," who asked for an order recognizing her change of sex and gender so she could amend her birth certificate.
The Laramie County District Court denied M.H.'s petition, saying it did not have this jurisdiction in a matter involving the Vital Records Act, according to the opinion written by Justice Kate Fox with a specially concurring opinion by Justice Keith Kautz.
The act says the Wyoming Department of Health is responsible for vital records including birth certificates and allows for amendments including amending the sex on a birth certificate when the individual's sex has changed, with "'an affidavit and a statement from a physician,'" according to the opinion.
M.H.'s birth certificate identifies her as male, but M.H. identifies and holds herself out as female.
M.H. first petitioned the Department of Health to amend the sex on her birth certificate, but it said it could do that only after she provided a court order that agreed with Department of Health regulations.
So she petitioned the Laramie County District Court consistent with the court's "'power of general jurisdiction,'" Wyoming law that governs amending vital records, and her own compliance with the Department of Health's regulations.
That court considered whether the Wyoming Constitution or the Department of Health's rules granted it jurisdiction over such an issue and determined they didn't.
So M.H. appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The justices reviewed the laws about what district courts can consider, the Vital Records Act, and the reasoning of the district court in denying M.H.'s petition.
The justices wrote the Laramie County District Court concluded in part that the Vital Records Act identifies specific guidelines for a name change, but says nothing about proceedings for a gender change, reasoning that the Legislature didn't specifically identify it.
And that's where the Laramie County District Court was wrong.
The Laramie County District Court presumed it did not have jurisdiction, but the Wyoming Constitution gives the district courts wider latitude than that and "requires a presumption in favor of jurisdiction," according to the Supreme Court.
The Laramie County District Court said the vital records law about changing the name of a person should be limited to that, but the justices wrote previous case law does not restrict such an interpretation.
The Supreme Court also rejected the argument from silence on the part of the Legislature, according to the opinion. "When the legislature has limited the jurisdiction of the district courts, it has done so expressly," such as limiting civil actions less than $50,000 to the circuit courts.
The Department of Health has the responsibility to maintain accurate records, the justices wrote. "Amendment of inaccurate information falls squarely within the legislative intent to 'protect the integrity and accuracy of vital records.'"
With that, the Supreme Court reversed the Laramie County District Court's ruling on M.H.'s petition, and sent it back for further consideration.
In his specially concurring opinion, Kautz wrote the majority of the justices went too far when they wrote the district court should allow M.H. to amend her "gender" and "sex" on her birth certificate to protect the integrity and accuracy of vital records.
Among other matters, Kautz drew the distinction between "sex" -- the reproductive organs one is born with -- and "gender" which includes "a persons's perception, understanding, and experience of themselves and roles in society."
Sex can only be changed by surgery, and the birth certificate form refers only to sex and not gender, Kautz wrote.
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