Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill supporters say would make California the first state to add a third gender option on state identifying documents.
State Sen. Toni Atkins' bill would add a non-binary gender marker option for driver's licenses, birth certificates, identity cards and gender change court orders. The San Diego Democrat says SB 179 would also simplify the process for changing one's gender on those documents.
Transgender people face discrimination in their everyday lives when they use IDs that do not match the gender they appear to be, Atkins said. The legislation would help transgender people, intersex people, and those who do not identify as either male or female to obtain official documents that match their gender identity, she said.
SB 179 would end the requirements that a person get a doctor's sworn statement and appear in court even if no objections have been filed when petitioning to change their gender on official documents. The bill would also allow minors to apply for a gender change on their birth certificate.
People who say they are non-binary describe themselves as neither male nor female. Intersex individuals have sex characteristics, such as genitals, that are different than typical bodily characteristics of males and females.
This legislation would be the first of its kind in the country, said Jo Michael legislative manager of Equality California, a group that advocates for LGBT rights and is co-sponsoring Atkins' bill.
"As a person who identifies as transgender and is non-binary, this piece of legislation is important to me on a personal level," Michael said during a press conference on the bill. "For the first time, Californians could have accurate gender markers that truly reflect who we are."
The federal government does not offer a third gender option for official documents such as passports. The issue drew national attention in November when a federal judge asked the U.S. State Department to reconsider its decision to deny a passport to a Colorado resident who does not identify as male or female. Government lawyers argued that moving beyond two gender choices on federal documents would hamper officials' ability to verify identities and backgrounds because they rely on state documents including drivers' licenses and birth certificates with only male and female gender options.
The California Family Council, a conservative Christian group, opposes adding gender options beyond male and female to state documents, the group's CEO Jonathan Keller said.
"We believe government documents need to reflect biological facts for identification and medical purposes," Keller said in a statement on SB 179. "Laws like this will simply erase any meaningful gender definitions, if being male or female is completely divorced from biological facts."
Sen. Scott Wiener is coauthoring SB 179 and said he thinks California should lead the way in enacting protections for transgender people.
"The trans community is under assault in this country. California needs to go in the opposite direction," the San Francisco Democrat said. "When they go backwards, we go forwards."