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Bills aim to remove requirements for name changes, codify expanded gender markers on official docs

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Bills aim to remove requirements for name changes, codify expanded gender markers on official docs

Nov 14, 2023 | 4:10 am ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
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Bills aim to remove requirements for name changes, codify expanded gender markers on official docs

Democratic lawmakers in Michigan introduced bills this month to remove requirements for name changes on official documents.

In addition, they would affirm Attorney General Dana Nessel’s recommendation to remove the requirement for a letter of certification of “sex-reassignment surgery” to change the sex on a birth certificate and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s decision to add a non-binary designation to driver’s licenses and state IDs.

The bills cover a series of proposals made this summer that aim to make it easier and less costly for Michiganders to change their name on official documents and have gender markers that best embody how they identify.

Bills removing barriers for transgender Michiganders seeking name changes to be introduced soon

Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott called the legislation a “significant stride toward equity and inclusivity.” 

“The positive impact of this legislation extends beyond mere paperwork. The changes put forward in this legislation package would foster a more inclusive, accepting, and safer Michigan for ALL Michiganders,” Knott said.

The Legislature is expected to adjourn for the year on Tuesday, but the bills could be taken up next year.

Currently, individuals who get married and soon after seek a name change on their license or state ID go through a process that typically costs less than $50 and involves getting a certified copy of their marriage certificate, alerting the Social Security office and presenting necessary documents to their local Secretary of State branch office.

However, if marriage isn’t the reason for a name change — which is the case for transgender and non-binary Michiganders — there is a very different process, which can cost hundreds of dollars and sends people through the court system.

Bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) spoke with the Advance this summer when the bills were being built to discuss what she calls an invasive and accusatory process for LGBTQ+ Michiganders to change their name compared to a dramatically easier, more human process for others seeking a name change.

“It’s just an issue of basic humanity and not treating certain segments of our population different than everyone else,” Pohutsky said. “It’s remarkably easy to change your name if you get married and I don’t understand why we don’t have the same concerns about someone changing their name at the point of marriage as we do someone who is just transitioning in their life.”

HB 5300 strikes out the requirement that a person 22-years-old or older and seeking a name change for a reason outside of a recent marriage has to have two complete sets of fingerprints taken at their local police station, which is then sent to the state police department and Federal Bureau of Investigation to compare with their records. Fingerprinting typically costs the person petitioning for a name change about $40.

The bill also removes a section of Michigan law that creates a presumption of fraudulent intent if a person seeking a name change has a criminal record. Currently, the burden of disproving the automatic assumption is on the petitioner.

Hiring legal representation to disprove fraud can be costly for those petitioning for a name change.

The requirement that a person publish notice of the court proceedings to change their name in a local news outlet would be struck out by HB 5300, if the person shows “good cause” such as reporting they are in danger if they publish such information or the person is attempting to affirm their gender identity.

Bills aim to remove requirements for name changes, codify expanded gender markers on official docs
Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at a bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 4, which expands the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBTQ+ community, on March 16, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

In 2021, Nessel issued a legal opinion declaring a state law that requires verification of “sex-reassignment surgery,” an outdated term, in order to change the sex designation on a birth certificate unconstitutional. HB 5303 strikes out that requirement and allows individuals to switch the sex marker to an “X” as non-binary sex designation.

“The law violates Michiganders’ most basic and fundamental protections under the Constitution,” Nessel said in 2021 in regards to the current law requiring proof of surgical action. “As written, it is a tool of intolerance that treats one group of people different from the rest of us by requiring thousands of residents to undergo expensive and invasive medical procedures in order to amend their birth certificates to reflect their true identity.”

Also in 2021, Benson announced a policy that allows residents to choose a non-binary sex marker, an “X”, for their driver’s license or state ID. In 2019, Benson eliminated the requirement to provide a birth certificate to change the sex marker on a license or ID, requiring a form instead. House Bills 5301 and 5302 would codify Benson’s policies.