The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has postponed a policy change that, starting Jan. 1, would have required transgender residents to obtain a court order or amended birth certificate to change the gender on their driver's license or identification card. The delay drew praise Wednesday from gay rights advocates who mobilized to protest altering the policy that's been in effect since 2000 and allows applicants to change their designation if they provide a physician or psychologist's report confirming they are undergoing a sex change. They sent hundreds of e-mails to Gov. Martin O'Malley and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.
The advocates argue that the identification documents should reflect the gender a person outwardly presents, allowing them to better integrate into society and avoid confusion or harassment when showing their ID to security guards or cashiers.
"When you go to a grocery store and pay with a check or buy a lottery ticket, you are asked for identification, and to have it match how you present yourself to the world protects you against discrimination and violence," said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, director of Equality Maryland, the state's leading gay-rights group.
While the long-standing MVA policy remains in place, the matter hasn't been resolved.
The state attorney general's office has advised the MVA that it doesn't have the statutory authority to change the gender designation except to match a birth certificate or comply with a court order. Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for the attorney general, said the issue arose because under Real ID, a federal security act, the state must comply with its own statutes.
MVA spokeswoman Caryn Coyle said the agency plans to continue working with the attorney general's office to determine if a policy update is warranted and to ensure "reasonable accommodations" for individuals making a gender transition. It's unclear if a legislative fix would be needed.
Meneses-Sheets said the proposed policy change would create additional hurdles and financial burdens for transgender residents, many of whom are low-income and struggle with workplace discrimination. According to one survey, more than one-fourth of transgender individuals make less than $20,000 a year.
Obtaining a court order could be costly, and a birth certificate can only be altered if an individual's sex has been changed by surgical procedure, Meneses-Sheets said. Also, people undergoing a sex change often must live as the opposite gender, sometimes while undergoing hormone and other therapy, for one year before surgery.
Jonathan Acton, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter to MVA Administrator John Kuo two years ago that "a change in gender designation on the driver's license prior to surgery may be supportive of the transition process, but is anatomically incorrect." According to the letter, more than 90 individuals have had their licenses changed without a court order or amended birth certificate.
The policy debate continued behind the scenes, and earlier this year gay-rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, in a memo to Kuo, wrote that the MVA policy is "legally sound." They contend the MVA has the authority to determine how criteria such as height, weight and gender should be established.