Transgender Law Center Co-Sponsors Name & Gender Change Legislation
Assembly Bill 1121, authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins and co-sponsored by Equality California and Transgender Law Center, simplifies the process required for name changes and ensures that a transgender person’s gender identity is reflected accurately on all their identity documents.
The current California procedures to change a person’s name and/or gender are extremely costly and burdensome, particularly for low-income transgender individuals who may not meet the extremely low income limits to be eligible for court fee waivers and who generally do not have access to attorneys to help them navigate the court system.
In addition, California law does not provide sufficient direction to the person preparing a death certificate about how to identify the person’s sex. In some cases, this has meant that the death certificate for a transgender person fails to accurately reflect that person’s gender identity. (see also: Remembering Christopher Lee, Achieving Justice for Our Loved Ones)
AB 1121 would create a new administrative option for transgender people seeking to amend the gender and/or name on a California birth certificate, eliminating the unnecessary interim step of getting a court order before the State Registrar can change a birth certificate. The current court process for obtaining an order that recognizes a person’s legal gender transition would remain available as an option for people born outside of California or those who want extra assurance that the change would be granted full faith and credit by other states.
AB 1121 would also remove the expensive and burdensome newspaper publication requirement for legal name changes and would provide that a name change that is uncontested must be granted without a hearing. Finally, the bill would provide more detailed guidance to ensure that the gender identity of a transgender individual is appropriately reflected on their death certificate.
Birth Certificates: While many other states have simple administrative procedures that permit transgender people to amend the gender marker and/or name on their birth certificates, California still requires a lengthy, expensive, and burdensome process that includes a mandatory court petition as a prerequisite before the state’s Office of Vital Records will change the gender marker on a birth certificate. Adopting such an alternative administrative-only route would both streamline individuals’ access to corrected birth certificates and reduce the caseloads on overwhelmed courts.
Name Changes: Existing law requires the person seeking a name change to publish a notice in a newspaper for four weeks, which can be expensive and can put the safety and privacy of transgender people at risk. Existing law requires a hearing for name changes, but authorizes a court to grant a name change without a hearing if no one files a written objection within a specified amount of time.
This bill would require a court to grant a petition for a name change without a hearing if no one files an objection, rather than simply making the hearing optional for the court. The bill would also repeal the newspaper publication requirement and would make it possible to keep the person’s former name confidential when the name change is sought to conform the petitioner’s name to their gender identity.
Death Certificates: Under existing law, a state death certificate must include certain personal data about the deceased, including the person’s sex. This bill would clarify that the sex indicated on the death certificate should be the sex that corresponds to the person’s gender identity.