California Becomes First State to Legally Recognize Third Gender Option

· Updated on May 28, 2018

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on Sunday that recognizes the existence of a third gender, a history-making first. Oregon paved the way by adding a gender-neutral option to driver’s licenses last year, but that decision was made through the court system, not the legislature. Washington D.C. allows a similar designation on state IDs.

The Gender Recognition Act, also known as Senate Bill 179, is more sweeping than the Oregon ruling. The groundbreaking legislation allows for nonbinary and intersex people to list an “X” on all forms of official identification, not just driver’s licenses.

SB 179 was sponsored by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who championed the law’s passage.

“I want to thank Gov. Brown for recognizing how difficult it can be for our transgender, nonbinary and intersex family members, friends and neighbors when they don’t have an ID that matches their gender presentation,” Atkins said in a statement. She added, “I have dear friends in San Diego and around the state who have been waiting a long time for this.”

Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) also heralded the groundbreaking measure.

“California continues its fight for a more inclusive society, even as some in Washington continue to undermine the LGBTQ community,” said Weiner in a statement, who co-authored the bill. The openly gay representative remarked on Twitter that the bill “helps people of all gender identities be their authentic selves.”

Among the bill’s many provisions, SB 179 simplifies the process for transgender youth under the age of 18 to apply for a legal name and gender change.

Prior to Sunday night, the law’s future was uncertaineven despite the state’s progressive politics. Critics warned that SB 179 would be expensive to implement, entailing $880,000 in updates to system at local DMV offices. Gov. Brown had declined to take a public stance on the legislation.

But SB 179 was one of 977 bills whose fates were decided on Sunday night, prior to a pending deadline.

Brown vetoed legislation that would require politicians to publicly disclose their tax returns, a clear swipe at President Trump’s decision not to release his financial statements. The governor declined to sign the law in fear that it would be found unconstitutional. He also struck down legislation on campus sexual assault and a bill that would prevent employees from being fired for having an abortion.

SB 179, one of the 859 bills signed into law Sunday, stands to impact a sizable share of California’s trans community. Thirty-one percent of respondents in a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that they identify outside the boundaries of male and female.

Countries such as Australia, India, Germany, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom have already allowed legal recognition for nonbinary individuals.

The legislation, however, was one of two pioneering LGBTQ bills passed over the weekend. California also enacted Senate Bill 310 (also known as the “Name and Dignity Act”), which allows transgender inmates to more easily change apply for a legal name change behind bars. It waves the requirement that applicants get prior permission from prison officials, which often serves to create a formidable bureaucratic barrier.

SB 310 was also authored by Sen. Atkins.

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