(CN) — The Michigan Supreme Court issued a rule Wednesday that requires the state's courts to allow parties and attorneys to use a person’s preferred personal pronoun in court documents and when addressing, referring to, or identifying a party or attorney orally or in writing.
The new rule, which becomes effective Jan. 1, is a reflection of a change in society in which some transgender, nonbinary or gender-fluid individuals choose to be identified by “they, them and their” as a gender-neutral singular personal pronoun.
Under the new rule, Michigan courts “must use the individual’s name, the designated salutation or personal pronouns, or other respectful means that is not inconsistent with the individual’s designated salutation or personal pronouns when addressing, referring to, or identifying the party or attorney, either orally or in writing. Parties and attorneys may also include Ms., Mr., or Mx. as a preferred form of address and one of the following personal pronouns in the name section of the caption: he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs.”
The new rule was adopted by the court by a 5-2 vote, with Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement and Justices Richard Bernstein, Megan Cavanaugh, Elizabeth Welch and Kyra Bolden in the majority. Justices David Vivano and Brian K. Zahara dissented.
“While Michigan is the first state court to amend its court rules to expressly include such comprehensive protection for personal pronouns — history is made by being the first,” Justice Bolden wrote in a separate concurrence.
“We are sending a signal that ‘all members of the public are entitled to inhabit public spaces on equal terms,’” she wrote, quoting from U.S. Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in a recent case. “This is a step in the right direction. Adopting this amendment makes Michigan courts more welcoming and inclusive for all.”
Not long ago, Justice Welch noted in a separate concurrence, many judges would not permit a female attorney to use the salutation Ms. instead of the unmarried Miss or married Mrs. “The salutation was the subject of much debate, which today has largely been forgotten,” she wrote. “Later generations of attorneys would likely be confounded by the notion that women in court had to use a salutation that indicated marital status while men faced no such requirement. Society has, thankfully, long moved past that debate.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Zahara wrote that some members of the public, in comments to the court on the proposed rule change, said it would conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs if they are compelled to use a person’s preferred pronouns that are inconsistent with biological gender on that person’s birth certificate.
“All told, this is a fluid political debate into which our judicial branch of state government should not wade, let alone dive headfirst and claim to have resolved,” he wrote.Follow @@roxalaird16
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