July 11, 2013 at 9:20 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Council approves trans birth certificate bill
David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade, 2013 Capital Pride Parade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) wrote the bill that makes it easier for trans people to obtain a new birth certificate. (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that supporters say will modernize and remove unnecessary hurdles in the process for transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their gender.

The bill, which was written by Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), is called the JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013 in honor of the transgender woman who was murdered in February 2012 while waiting for a bus in Northeast D.C.

“Today the Washington, D.C. City Council modernized the policy making it clearer and easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate,” the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement.

The Council also gave final approval to the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013, which expands the list of people authorized to perform a wedding ceremony in the city.

Both bills received strong support from local LGBT advocacy organizations. The birth certificate measure received support from at least two national groups – the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – which said the legislation would set a precedent for passing similar bills in other jurisdictions.

Among other things, the birth certificate bill repeals an existing city law that prevents transgender people from changing their birth certificate unless they undergo gender reassignment surgery. Transgender advocates and officials with the city’s Department of Health told a Council committee hearing earlier this year that gender reassignment surgery presents an unnecessary burden for many transgender people who can’t afford it or for whom it may not be medically safe.

Other experts testifying before a joint hearing of the Council’s Committee on Health and Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety said for many transgender people, surgery isn’t necessary for them to transition to another gender.

The bill also eliminates what supporters said was an unnecessary and burdensome requirement that transgender people seeking to change their name to reflect their gender announce the change in a paid advertisement in a newspaper or other publication.

The legislation’s key provision changes the D.C. Vital Records Act of 1981 to require the city’s registrar to issue a new birth certificate designating a new gender for “any individual who provides a written request and a signed statement from a licensed healthcare provider that the individual has undergone a gender transition,” according to a statement released by the Committee on Health.

The marriage officiant bill, which was authored by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), would authorize same-sex or opposite-sex couples applying for a marriage license to designate a friend, parent, sibling or any other adult as a one-time “temporary officiant” empowered to perform the marriage ceremony.

The bill would also allow couples to serve as their own officiants, a provision that prompted Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) to vote against the bill at its first-reading vote two weeks ago. Bowser voted for the measure on Wednesday as did all other Council members.

Under current city law, couples planning to marry are limited to choosing a judge, a licensed clergy member, or a court appointed officiant that can only perform the marriage ceremony at the courthouse.

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan group, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club were among the local groups that pushed for passage of the two bills.

Mayor Vincent Gray has said he supports the two bills and would sign them as soon as they reach his desk. Under the city’s limited home rule charter, the bills must then go to Congress for a 30 legislative day review that Capitol Hill observers say is likely to be completed in November due to several scheduled congressional recesses.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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