Transgender New Yorkers to Get Marriage Licenses

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 8, 2011

Transgender New Yorkers will be able to apply for marriage licenses under a new city policy, according to a March 8 press release from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

"The policy was adopted as part of an agreement to resolve threatened legal action involving a transgender couple," the release states. "The couple wishes to remain private and we refer to them as Jane and John.

"Jane and John are both transgender," the release continues. "They are an opposite-sex couple who have been in a relationship for over a decade. In Dec. 2009, they attempted to marry in the Bronx. They fulfilled all of the requirements for receiving a marriage license in New York City and presented their government-issued photo identification--the only identification required by the City Clerk's office.

"Rather than issuing the marriage license, the City Clerk refused and instead demanded that Jane and John produce their birth certificates before they could be married--something not required of other marriage license applicants," the release added.

"Under the terms of the new policy, issued on Feb. 7, 2011, once a marriage license applicant produces the required photo ID, the City Clerk may not request additional proof of sex," the release says. "Moreover, City Clerk employees are forbidden from considering the applicant's appearance or preconceived notions related to gender expression when deciding whether to issue a marriage license."

"Transgender people are challenged all the time about their status as men and women," Michael Silverman, the executive director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said. "Our clients are legally entitled to marry and were denied that right just because they are transgender. We applaud the City Clerk's office for adopting this policy and for taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again."

"In addition to the adoption of the new policy, the agreement to resolve the couple's claims calls for the City Clerk to apologize to Jane and John, to institute training for all City Clerk employees on issues relating to gender identity and gender expression, and to ensure that Jane and John are free to marry at a time and place of their choosing," the release added.

Transgender citizens can find it difficult to obtain identification that accurately reflects their gender identity.

"As the federal government requires the use of identification for more purposes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many transgender people to access accurate documents," text at the website for the National Center for Transgender Equality states.

"Without the consistent identification that many people take for granted, it can be impossible to travel, open a bank account, or apply for a job. The Bush administration implemented ideologically-driven restrictions for changing ID, making it especially difficult to access passports and social security accounts, which are 'gateway' documents that can impact ability to acquire other forms of ID."

The site calls for the repeal of the REAL ID Act, a 2005 law that tightened restrictions on resident aliens and set out national guidelines for state-level ID documents such as drivers' licenses and ID cards.

However, in some states it is possible for transgender citizens to obtain updated drivers' licenses that reflect their gender identity. In California, an incident in which a DMV worker allegedly harassed a transwoman led to a privacy claim against the agency last year.

In New York, a 2009 court decision found that transgendered people choosing new names to fit their gender identity no longer needed documentation from a doctor to make the change legal.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.