California Lawmakers Want 'Third Gender Option' for Drivers’ Licenses

'Our society is becoming more enlightened every day about gender identity'

Gay Pride San Francisco
Marchers with the transgender group TGI Justice assemble for the start of the 44th annual San Francisco Gay Pride parade / AP
February 1, 2017

Legislation introduced in California would create a third gender option on drivers’ licenses and expedite the process for individuals to change their sex on their birth certificate without undergoing a sex change.

The "Gender Recognition Act," sponsored by state senators Toni Atkins of San Diego and Scott Weiner of San Francisco, would add "nonbinary" to the list of male and female genders on state identification documents.

"Our society is becoming more enlightened every day about gender identity," said Atkins when introducing the bill last week. "It’s time for our state to make it easier for transgender Californians and those who don’t conform to traditional notions of gender to have state-issued identification documents that reflect who they truly are." She added: "This bill will help them avoid the discrimination and harassment that too many of these residents face in their daily lives."

California law currently requires individuals seeking to change their birth certificate to provide proof from a doctor that they have undergone "clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition."

The new legislation would remove this requirement and allow individuals to change their gender without a hearing, if no one files an objection.

Individuals must sign an affidavit that states under penalty of perjury that the legal gender change is to conform to the individual's gender identity and is "not made for any fraudulent purpose."

Courts must issue a judgment on request within 28 days, unless an objection is filed, according to the legislation. A separate individual can file an objection, which will lead to a hearing. The gender change will be granted if it is proven that it "is not made for any fraudulent purpose."

The legislation also removes the word "sex" from the existing California law, replacing it with "gender," and changes the pronouns "his or her" to "the petitioner."

If passed, the bill would "create a process by which individuals younger than 18 years old can apply for a change in gender on their birth certificate," with consent of at least one parent, or guardian. If one parent does not consent to the change, they can contest the petition in court.

The Transgender Law Center, which is currently suing Vice President Mike Pence, helped craft the text of the legislation.

The purpose of the law is to "enable more transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to obtain state-issued identity documents that accurately reflect their gender," according to Atkins's office.

"Nonbinary," also known as "genderqueer," applies to persons who do not identify as either male or female, has multiple gender identities, a partial connection to gender, or a gender identity that changes over time, among other things.

"Current law creates onerous and unnecessary barriers for people who wish to apply for a change in gender on their state-issued identity documents," Atkins's office said. "One of the most significant of these barriers is the requirement of a physician’s sworn statement certifying the extent of medical treatment received by someone during their gender transition. Additionally, a person seeking a gender-change or name-change court order must appear in court even if nobody has filed objections to their petition."

The senators said a change in law is necessary because nonbinary individuals who "self-identify as neither male nor female" are currently not represented by two sex options on drivers’ licenses.

"Our trans brothers and sisters are under attack in far too many parts of this country and this world," Sen. Wiener said. "Now, more than ever, California must lead on trans inclusion and ensure that our entire community can live with dignity and respect. This legislation is an overdue step forward."

The legislation is currently waiting for referral to be heard before a policy committee, and likely will not be considered until March. Atkins's office said other outside groups are expected to formally support the legislation.

"California is a national leader in LGBTQ rights," Atkins said at a press conference announcing the bill. "The Gender Recognition Act is the next big step down a path that all others eventually will follow."