A Kansas judge has ruled that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles must continue to misgender trans residents. Specifically, the judge’s order bars changes to gender markers on driver’s licenses in spite of prior legal precedence.
The ruling concerns the recent passage of Senate Bill 180, the so-called “Women’s Bill of Rights,” which legally defines sex as being male or female according to the “biological reproductive system” (and completely ignores intersex reproductive biology). The Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto in order to pass the bill, and the law was due to come into effect on July 1.
Regardless, Kelly’s administration ordered the DMV to continue to process gender change requests. In response, Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach sued for enforcement of the law. Although a 2018 federal lawsuit settlement permitted gender identity changes on birth certificates, creating legal precedent that predates the state law, District Court Judge Teresa Watson sided with Kobach on Monday.
Watson ordered the DMV to “immediately cease and desist from processing any requests by driver’s licensees or driver’s license applicants to change or display their sex in a manner that does not reflect their biological sex as defined by SB 180” and to “take all actions necessary to ensure that any newly issued or reissued driver’s licenses reflect the licensee’s biological sex’ is used to define a person’s gender as well.”
The history of passports and the gender listed on them is more complicated (and more recent) than you might assume.
Watson reasoned changes to gender markers would pose public safety risks, even though such changes have been legal across the US for years. In fact, Kansas is now the only state to explicitly bar trans citizens from updating their driver’s licenses, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
“The Attorney General points out that driver’s licenses are issued for a period of six years and are difficult to take back or out of circulation once issued,” Watson wrote. “Licenses are used by law enforcement to identify criminal suspects, crime victims, wanted persons, missing persons, and others. Compliance with stated legal requirements for identifying license holders is a public safety concern.”
At the same time, misgendered markers on government documents would out trans residents against their will, putting them at risk of harassment. One such resident, transgender University of Kansas student Jenna Bellemere, told the AP, “Whether intentionally or not, they never seem to consider the experiences and needs of the transgender population of the state. It’s frustrating.”
While Watson’s order is set to expire in fourteen days, it can be extended at the judge’s discretion. In the meantime, Kelly’s administration has said they are putting together a response to the ruling.