An Idaho federal judge has upheld a critical ruling that a proposed bill denying trans people the right to change their birth certificates is a constitutional violation.
The bill, HB 509, would specifically prohibit changes to gender markers, claiming that “biological distinctions between male and female are a matter of scientific fact, and biological sex is an objectively defined category that has obvious, immutable, and distinguishable characteristics”.
It also claims that changing someone’s biological sex on their birth certificate “impacts the health and safety of all individuals.”
The bill was opposed by the LGBT+ advocacy group Lambda Legal, which filed a lawsuit against the state. They argued that the law had already been ruled unconstitutional two years ago when Idaho tried to implement a similar policy against transgender people.
This policy was found to have violated the Equal Protection Clause as it endangered transgender people, who were opened up to threats and discrimination when forced to show inaccurate IDs. It led to a permanent injunction which prohibits anti-transgender discrimination by the state.
In proposing HB 509, the state of Idaho was attempting to “pretend the previous lawsuit never happened” by passing a new law and simply giving it a different bill number, the court was told.
Deputy attorney general Steven Olsen insisted that his bill was different, and suggested that the legislation needed to go into effect before any harm to transgender people could be proven.
Fortunately judge Candy Dale, who passed the first ruling two years ago, did not agree with him.
Idaho attempting to ‘turn back the clock on trans equality’.
“The plain language and objective of the order and judgment entered in this case permanently enjoin [the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare] from infringing on the constitutional rights of transgender individuals,” judge Dale wrote in the order on Monday.
She also warned state officials for their “experimentation with disobedience of the law” in flouting the permanent injunction issued in 2018.
The court made clear that if officials attempted to reinstate the ban on changing birth certificates, even if directed by state law, they would be in violation of the federal injunction.
“Like obeying speed limits and paying your taxes, Idaho state officials are not exempt from the duty to follow a court order,” said Peter Renn, an attorney for Lambda Legal.
“Here, the court’s 2018 order plainly instructed state officials not to block transgender people from accessing accurate identity documents. The court has now confirmed that what was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today.”
Lambda Legal staff attorney Kara Ingelhart added it was “remarkable” that the state had attempted to bring the issue back into court in the first place.
“[It is] a direct result of efforts by the Idaho legislature and governor Little to turn back the clock on equality,” she said. “To force this law through, even as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, is even more inexcusable.”