New Jersey Trans Restrictions Face Lawsuit

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A transgender woman claims in a federal complaint that New Jersey will not let her change the gender designated on her birth certificate unless she first undergoes sexual-reassignment surgery.

In the Nov. 18 lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the unnamed plaintiff accuses the state of violating her constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

According to the 17-page complaint, the New Jersey Office of Vital Statistics and Registry “will not permit the change without proof that the plaintiff has undergone sexual reassignment surgery … forcing her to undergo surgery that she does not want and [forcing her] to sterilize herself before she is allowed a correct birth certificate.”

A representative for the Office of Vital Statistics declined a request for comment.

In addition to alleging violations of the 14th Amendment, Jane Doe says she has a “fundamental right to make certain private decisions without unjustified government intrusion.”

In addition to being expensive and usually not covered by insurance, sexual-reassignment surgery may not be possible for Doe because of her medical history, the complaint says.

Transgender-rights cases have making waves across the country in recent years – ranging from treatment battles in federal, state and military prisons to bathroom access in schools and other public spaces.

New Jersey is among the states where legislators have proposed laws to limit a person’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on the gender listed on that person’s birth certificate.

“If we get our birth certificate changed, that’s all we need to pee legally,” said Julie Chovanes, one of the attorneys with representing Jane Doe in the Nov. 18 complaint against New Jersey.

Trans-Help, an advocacy group of which Chovanes is executive director, succeed earlier this year in fighting a Pennsylvania law that barred birth-certificates changes without surgery.

“I think New Jersey has as equally strong concerns for equal rights for its citizens as [other states],” Chovanes said. “Hopefully this case will turn out as successfully.”

As with the new suit against New Jersey, the Pennsylvania complaint had claimed that transgender people should be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pennsylvania ultimately agreed as part of a settlement in the case to eliminate surgery as a prerequisite for birth-certificate amendments.

The new policy requires only a doctor’s note stating the transgender person has “completed or is in the process of appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”

Several states, including Iowa and New York, allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates without first undergoing sexual-reassignment surgery. Other states, such as Kansas, won’t change birth certificates even after surgery.

New Jersey law allows transgender people to amend their birth certificates only in circumstances in which licensed physicians have certified that their sexes have been changed via surgery. The state charges a $6 fee for amending birth certificates.

New Jersey legislators proposed a bill in 2015 that allows transgender people to amend their birth certificates without surgery, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill in August.

Nursing a bid for the Republican presidential primary at the time, Christie had cited concerns about fraud and abuse, saying that a birth certificate was “one of the most important legal documents that person possesses.”

One vote short of an override, 26 state legislators including two Republicans fought Christie’s veto. The National Center for Transgender Equality condemned the veto at the time, calling New Jersey’s law “outdated and burdensome.”

After vetoing the bill, Christie appeared on the Michael Medved radio show. “I have to tell the truth, Michael,” he said. “There are certain things that go beyond the pale, and that’s not what I’m gonna permit the law to be in New Jersey.”

During the show, Christie — who had previously vetoed a similar bill — vowed to veto any future bills.