SALT LAKE CITY — To correct what he sees as a hole in Utah law, a state senator proposed a bill Thursday creating a process for transgender people to legally change their gender through the courts.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he's convinced the Legislature has failed judges because it has not provided them with guidelines for considering petitions seeking to change one's gender on a birth certificate.
"We’ve given them absolutely no guidance on what factors to consider if they get a petition," he said. "I’m trying to fill that gap because right now the judges are forced to legislate from the bench because I believe the Legislature has failed in its duty to fill in those blanks."
Weiler said Utah has a law going back to the 1950s that says judges can grant petitions to change names and gender. Some judges have granted gender change petitions, and some have denied them over the years.
"I doubt that it was originally intended for transgender, but that’s how it’s being used," he said.
SB138 sets out a court process for a gender change petition and establishes what a judge considers in making the decision. According to the bill, a person filing a petition must live in the county for at least one year, not be involved in court action or on probation or parole, and not seek the change for fraudulent reasons or to avoid creditors, among other factors.
Weiler said the factors could be debated but the status quo is "unsustainable."
"One of the biggest fears we have as legislators is that we’ll have judges legislating from the bench. We want to make the laws and have them interpret the laws," he said.
The bill comes as the Utah Supreme Court considers several cases in which judges have refused to grant gender change petitions. It heard arguments last month from two Utahns who claim judges have refused to grant their petitions to legally change the gender on their birth certificate to match their gender identity.
Weiler said he's not trying to tell the court how to rule and that the proposed law would not be retroactive.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, the Legislature's only openly gay member, said he has not read the bill but that "if it’s handled right, I think it could be great."13 comments on this story
The Salt Lake Democrat said the state should recognize the gender that people choose for themselves.
"Just treat people as human beings," he said. "It’s a lofty goal, but people are capable and ought to be given the human right to make that choice about what their gender is. It shouldn’t be made by others."
Troy Williams, Equality Utah executive director, said he looks forward to working with Weiler on the legislation.
"This bill will provide dignity and respect to transgender Utahns," he said.