A bill for the 2019 Legislature has been filed that would stop transgender Utahns from legally changing their birth sex.
“It is an egregious step backward for transgender Utahns,” said Troy Williams head of Equality Utah, an LGBTQ civil rights group. “It is transgender-phobic legislation.”
Not so, says Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, sponsor of HB153. You can read HB153 here.
Nelson’s bill defines gender at birth and then deletes language that currently allows a judge to grant an order allowing a transgender person later in life to change his or her birth gender on official county birth records.
Nelson says he has no ulterior motives in his bill – it is just a clear attempt to stop changes to a “vital state record” – the birth certificate – when none should be made.
“It is a fiction to change the sex designation on a birth certificate – a vital record -- based on fluctuating gender,” he said.
In short, said Nelson, sex is determined at conception – “a scientific and medical fact.”
A person may choose, later in life, to live any way he or she wishes, and change genders that way. But, Nelson says, he or she can’t change their sex as they were born – and so a state record shouldn’t be changed, either.
The bill says a judge may only order a “mistake” on the birth record to be fixed, and changing one’s birth sex would not be a mistake – as the live birth baby was either a male or female at birth.
Nelson is a partner in the law firm of Kirton McKonkie, the LDS Church’s official law firm.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is officially against same-sex marriage and teaches that a person is born their natural sex at birth as part of a divine plan for that individual.
The church also teaches that members should do genealogical research of ancestors and others to have a baptism for the dead – and changing official county birth records’ gender could interfere in future such research.
Nelson says his employment and personal religion have nothing whatsoever to do with HB153, nor the reason he is sponsoring it.
He is not trying to enshrine in state law the LDS Church’s stand on anything, and never even considered impacts on genealogical research.
“I am an independent legislator who sees a need to fix an ambiguous law. It is a fiction to say that a man or woman can change their sex” later in life, although they may decide to live a different gender.
In the 2018 Legislature, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, sponsored SB138, a bill that sought to make it easier for a transgender person to officially change his or her sex designation on official forms.
It failed in the Senate, and similar efforts failed in a 2018 interim study committee, said Nelson.
Nelson said his HB153 is a reaction to Weiler’s bill – and seeks to do just the opposite. “Current law is ambiguous on whether a person can change their sex” on official documents. They shouldn’t be able to, since sex is “immutable – it can’t be changed or fluctuate” at the desire of an individual.
“We have judicial roulette now,” said Williams.
A transgender person seeking to legally change his/her gender on state/county records may get a “conservative judge,” or find themselves in a “conservative city” or town and not be able to easily achieve their requested changes, said Williams.
Williams says he’s working with some GOP legislators to clear the way for such transgender changes to be made – so all transgender people in Utah can make record changes if they wish, regardless of which judge may hear their request or where they live. The 2019 Legislature starts Monday.
“This (Nelson’s bill) is clearly a reaction” to that effort, said Williams.
Nelson agrees, saying no one from the LDS Church asked him to run this, but that after the last session – and Weiler’s bill – some pro-family groups approached him and asked him to run what is now HB153.
“This (Nelson) bill is clearly aimed at hurting the Utah transgender community,” said Williams.
He cited the 2015 Utah Compact, where leaders of the LDS Church helped pass a bill that protects gay peoples’ rights in housing and employment.
“This goes against that compact,” said Williams.
Not so, said Nelson.
“This has nothing to do with housing and employment” of LGBTQ people, said Nelson. It in no way violates any part of the Utah Compact, he added.
It is nothing more than an attempt to clarify state law, stating the scientific obvious: You can’t change a person’s sex, even if a person decides to live in a different gender later in life.
And state and county records should not be changeable based on gender preference, said Nelson.