SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Tearful witnesses urged California Assembly members on Monday to support a bill to add a third gender option to state-issued identification documents, including driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
The Assembly’s transportation committee heard Senate Bill 179 since the change would largely affect the Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency responsible for issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards.
“Showing our identification is a part of our regular lives, “said state Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the bill’s author. “For someone who has an identification that states a gender that doesn’t match their gender presentation, things can get difficult.”
Atkins said non-binary and transgender people face harassment and discrimination as a result of IDs that do not match the gender to which they identify. Currently in California, driver’s licenses state “sex,” not “gender.” Science generally views the term “sex” to indicate the presence of male or female sexual organs, while “gender” is commonly viewed as a socially constructed view of roles, behaviors and activities.
Atkins, a member of the LGBTQ community, said the idea for the bill came about in discussions with younger voters in her district, who pointed out that neither the state or nation were leading on the issue of gender rights.
SB 179 aims to make California the second state to permit residents to choose a third gender option on IDs and birth certificates. Oregon became the first state to allow a third gender option on state-issued identification on July 1. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia allows for an “X” rather than a traditional gender.
Several countries have passed laws to allow for gender-inclusive IDs, including Australia, Germany and Canada.
A federal law, the REAL ID Act of 2005, requires all state-issued IDs to include, among several other standards, gender. Since no national ID exists, driver’s licenses are de facto identification. Lack of an ID, or possession of an ID that doesn’t “match” the person, can bar individuals from access to state and federal buildings, prevent banking transactions and inhibit a person’s ability to get a job.
Opponents of the bill claim it is akin to opening the “Pandora’s box of identity fraud.”
Randy Thomason, president of Campaign for Children and Families, believes support of the bill will undermine law and order in California by removing existing fraud protections.
“It eliminates the verification requirements,” Thomason said. “Instead, it says people can alter their birth certificates by paying only $11 and filing a simple form that says they are male, female or non-binary. Zero verification is required.”
Thomason believes that because the bill will allow criminals to change their identity easily and often, without any oversight by the courts, it will increase identity fraud. Identity theft and fraud cost Americans $16 billion in 2016, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. Identity theft and fraud increased by 40 percent in 2016 over the previous year, according to the same study.
“Imagine how easily criminals can exploit this,” Thomason argued. “John Jones could easily change his birth certificate to female or non-binary with a new name of Emily Eaton. But ‘she’ doesn’t change ‘his’ driver’s license. So he can have future arrests voided or criminal charges thrown out because his was a mistaken-identity arrest.”
Thomason said proper identification always requires a third party for verification, something that SB 179 specifically eliminates from existing law. The bill will also eliminate the requirement that a physician sign off on the gender change and eliminates the requirement that a person be enrolled in a clinical gender-reassignment program.
The measure allows for a four-week period for anyone to object to a gender change on state IDs or birth certificates. It establishes rights for parents, guardians and adult individuals to change their stated gender. A court hearing will still be required to complete the process.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, said the fears of opponents are overblown.
“I wanted to say what a joy it was to see so many beautiful human beings here today advocating for civil rights,” Friedman said. “I also have to say that I felt like the opponents were really struggling for reasons to convince us not to support this, and I don’t really see those reasons at all.”
The measure passed the state Senate on May 31. The Assembly committee voted 11-3 to advance the bill to the Assembly’s appropriations committee, which will determine the cost of implementation.