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Kansas judge rules trans people do not have the right to update their gender on driver’s licenses

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On Monday, Kansas District Judge Teresa Watson ruled that it is legal for the state to deny transgender people the right to change their gender marker on driver’s licenses.

Watson’s ruling upheld her July 2023 decision ordering the Kansas Department of Revenue to stop allowing changes to the “sex” label on driver’s licenses. That decision was brought on by a lawsuit from Attorney General Kris Kobach (R-KS), who sued Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D-KS) administration for allowing transgender individuals to update their gender identity on licenses.

This lawsuit came after the passing of bill SB 180, also known as the Kansas Women’s Bill of Rights. Kobach used this bill as justification to sue the Kelly administration for violating the law by continuing to allow transgender residents of the state to update their driver’s licenses. It was passed by overriding a veto from Kelly.

The Women’s Bill of Rights is a type of bill introduced in state legislatures across the country that comes from a model bill drafted by the Independent Women’s Forum, the Independent Women’s Law Center, and the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF). The bill removed the legal recognition of transgender people from the state, and instead focused on sex assigned as birth as the trait to legally recognize.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that the state constitution protected the right to change legal identification, citing a 2019 ruling that defended abortion rights via an argument for bodily autonomy, as well as citing the increased risk of harassment and discrimination that transgender individuals will face.

Watson, however, disagreed with that argument. To apply the 2019 ruling in Hodes & Nauser v. Derek Schmidt, she wrote in her decision, “would be an unreasonable stretch.”

Hodes said Kansans have the right to control their own bodies,” Watson wrote. “It did not say Kansans have a fundamental state constitutional right to control what information is displayed on a state-issued driver’s license.”

In a statement, Kobach said the decision was “a victory for the rule of law and common sense.”

“The Legislature wisely stated that state agencies should record biological sex at birth, and today the court held that the meaning of the law is clear,” said Kobach.

This ruling comes in the midst of a wave of Republican-led attacks on transgender rights both nationally and in Kansas. Earlier this year, Kobach argued for the forced outing of trans kids to their parents. Republican lawmakers in the state are currently pushing for a ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

A transgender ACLU attorney, D.C. Hiegert, said in a statement, “We will continue working toward a vision of our state that allows all of us to live in peace, free from government persecution and impositions on our core identities”

It is unclear if the ACLU or Kelly’s office plans to appeal Watson’s ruling.

Hiegert further said, “We remain unconvinced that the imaginary injury to the state could ever outweigh the enormous harm our clients and other transgender Kansans have and will continue to experience by being forced to carry inaccurate identification documents, in violation of their rights under the state constitution.”

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