April 4, 2018 at 7:48 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Federal judge rules Puerto Rico birth certificate policy is unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled Puerto Rico’s policy that prohibits transgender people from amending the gender on their birth certificates is unconstitutional. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A federal judge has ruled Puerto Rico must allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Lambda Legal last April filed a lawsuit on behalf of three trans Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a local advocacy group. U.S. District Court Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo in her ruling that she signed on March 28 said the U.S. commonwealth’s birth certificate policy, which the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decreed in 2005, is unconstitutional.

Daniela Arroyo González, who is one of the plaintiffs, in a press release that Lambda Legal released on Wednesday described the ruling as “an important step forward in the fight for the rights of transgender people in Puerto Rico.”

“It is a huge relief to finally have an accurate birth certificate that is a true reflection of who I am,” she added. “It makes me feel safer and like my country finally recognizes me, respects me, and protects my identity as a woman. As of today, trans people in Puerto Rico are more free. This is the right decision.”

“This is a tremendous victory for our clients and all transgender people born in Puerto Rico,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in a statement. “The Puerto Rican government must now allow transgender Puerto Ricans to change the gender markers on their birth certificates so that they accurately reflect and affirm their identities.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, on Twitter described the ruling as “historic.”

“At Puerto Rico Para Tod@s we are proud to be part of this case that allows trans people to amend their birth certificates,” he wrote. “Thank you Lambda Legal and this case’s trans plaintiffs for their coverage.”

Gonzalez-Pagan told the Blade the policy was “not only discriminatory” but it “also was a relic from the past reflecting archaic views about who we are as a people and a society.”

“A birth certificate is an essential identity document,” he said. “Birth certificates are necessary to access an array of rights and benefits such as employment, education, housing, travel and the ability to vote. It is vital for identity documents to accurately reflect who we are. We are pleased that the court recognized that the government cannot interfere with transgender people’s ability to live as their authentic selves and that attempts to do so are unconstitutional.”

Consuelo issued her ruling less than seven months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Puerto Rican Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez and Puerto Rico Demographic Registry Director Wanda Llovet Díaz were defendants in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit.

The Puerto Rico House of Representatives in February failed to override Rosselló’s veto of a religious freedom bill that would have allowed discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in the U.S. commonwealth. A spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Justice Department told the Associated Press that Rosselló’s government does not plan to appeal Consuelo’s ruling.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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