A bill proposed by California state senators Jan. 24 would add a third gender option to birth certificates and driver’s licenses, allowing Californians to identify as nonbinary.
The bill, known as the Gender Recognition Act or SB 179, was introduced by State Senator Toni Atkins and has eight co-authors. In addition to allowing individuals to change their gender identification on birth certificates and driver’s licenses to nonbinary, the bill would also eliminate the requirement that an individual undergo treatment to apply to change their gender identity on state documents, as well as allow individuals under 18 to do so.
“What the bill does is respect that there are folks … for which they do not self identify as either male or female,” said State Senator Nancy Skinner, a co-author of the bill. “It is not appropriate in our legal documents to have to choose either male or female.”
The bill would also accelerate the process of changing an individual’s gender identification on legal documents, requiring that courts deliver a judgment recognizing the change within 28 days after a petition is filed.
For many of its proponents, the bill represents a step forward in securing rights for transgender individuals, but these proponents believe that more progress is still necessary.
“Obviously, this is just one thing, and the struggle to gain both legal recognition as well as social respect is long and complicated,” said Laura Nelson, campus associate professor of gender and women’s studies. “Legal rights are not the end goal, but they’re an important tool.”
The Gender Recognition Act is not expected to reach the full California Senate for a vote until spring, according to Atkins’ office. The bill must first be referred to a policy committee, which will likely not occur until March.
Regarding the potential success of the bill, Skinner said she has seen a rise in understanding and awareness of LGBTQ rights among the legislature and general population of California.
“These specific issues become increasingly important in the current context where people are feeling like civil rights may be moved backwards,” Nelson said. “So, it makes legal arguments even more important today.”
State Senator Scott Wiener, a co-author of the bill, said in an email that he hopes that with the introduction of this bill, California can encourage states across the country to introduce similar legislation.
“This bill is a great and overdue step forward, but we can do more, especially when you have statehouses all across our country passing laws that attack our trans brothers and sisters,” Wiener said in an email. “California needs to lead with this bill, and with other efforts to serve as a model for inclusion for other states. When they go backward, we go forward.”