New Jersey could soon become the third state to legally recognize nonbinary identities after the legislature passed a trio of landmark trans rights bills.
S.478 streamlines the process of updating the gender marker listed on an individual’s birth certificate. Rather than requiring applicants to undergo gender confirmation surgery before updating their documents, trans people could instead fill out a form through the Department of Health stating that the changes are necessary to match their lived gender identity.
Former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed similar legislation in 2015, citing fears it could lead to fraud. The penalty for lying on the Health Department form is a charge of perjury, which could result in three to five years behind bars.
Additionally, the bill allows trans people to list nonbinary on their birth certificate, meaning they identify as neither male nor female. Of the estimated 30,100 transgender people living in the state of New Jersey, between 25 and 35 percent of those individuals identify outside the gender binary. That’s around 10,500 people.
Individuals will also have the opportunity not to disclose their gender on their birth documents.
The New Jersey Assembly, which is the lower house of the state legislature, passed S.478 by a decisive margin of 57 to 11 earlier this month after the state Senate approved the bill in February. It now moves to Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat who campaigned on advancing LGBTQ rights in the 2017 gubernatorial election, for consideration.
Representatives for the governor’s office have not officially confirmed, however, that Murphy plans to sign the legislation into law.
Should S.478 receive the governor’s signature, New Jersey would follow in the footsteps of Oregon and California, which have recognized nonbinary identities on identification like driver’s licenses and state IDs.
In addition to affirming the existence of those who fall under categories like “genderqueer,” “agender,” “pangender,” and “neutrois,” the legislation also recognizes that gender confirmation surgeries aren’t accessible to everyone. According to statistics from the National Center for Trans Equality, two-thirds of trans people reported that they hadn’t surgically transitioned, and many said they never intended upon doing so.
These operations can be extremely expensive, costing between $20,000 and $30,000 to fully transition. Given that an estimated 29 percent of trans people live below the poverty line, those costs are prohibitive for many.
S.478 was named for Babs Siperstein, a New Jersey trans activist who traveled to Canada to complete her gender confirmation surgery. As the local radio station KYW reported, Siperstein “had a major complication and could have died” during the process, one she only undertook to change the gender marker on her birth certificate.
“You had to get the surgery to get the documentation changed,” she claimed. “Where else in this country if you want to be yourself are you forced to have such intrusive surgery? This is not like having your tooth pulled.”
Siperstein said the bill’s likely passage will “help educate people” about the realities transgender people face.
“The birth certificate bill has been years in the making,” added Garden State Equality Director of Programs Aaron Potenza, as the New York Observer reported. “We are excited that transgender people will finally be able to access accurate identity documents, excited that the bill is progressive and includes a third gender option, and excited that the legislature is honoring Babs’ work by renaming the bill the Babs Siperstein Law.”
But S.478 isn’t the only landmark piece of trans legislation set to be considered by the New Jersey governor. There’s also S.493, a bill which requires that the name and gender marker listed on an individual’s death certificate match their identity. The legislation states that relatives, friends, or loved ones making the funeral arrangements will be tasked with making that assessment.
Should conflicting information arise, S.493 outlines procedure for how parties will make appropriate determinations to respect the deceased’s gender.
Lastly, A.1727 creates a task force on furthering transgender rights in the state of New Jersey, establishing a governmental entity whose mission it is “to assess legal and societal barriers to equality.” As in the case of the other two bills, Murphy is expected to weigh in by the end of June.
Legislators in New Jersey believe these pieces of legislation are important in solidifying New Jersey’s commitment to progress.
“This package of bills will certainly solidify New Jersey’s place as a leader in transgender civil rights,” Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle told colleagues in the legislature prior to this month’s vote.
Given the rollbacks of LGBTQ rights under Trump, she added that protecting the rights of the marginalized is “more [important] than ever.”
“Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide,” the Democratic representative claimed. “While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the ‘LGB’ community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the ‘T’ community.”