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Kobach sues governor for letting trans Kansans change the gender on their IDs and birth certificates

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Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sued Gov. Laura Kelly over dueling interpretations of a law restricting transgender Kansans’ ability to change their gender on state documents.

TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sued Gov. Laura Kelly Friday over what gender people can have on their birth certificates and state-issued IDs.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” a controversial bill that Democrats say targets the transgender community for discrimination. The exact implications of the new law remain unclear partly because the bill mentioned no ways to enforce provisions.

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Republicans sold the bill as a way to keep trans women out of spaces designated for biological women. That could mean someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a woman would not be allowed in women’s bathrooms, locker rooms or domestic violence shelters.

But the Republican attorney general said last week that gender changes on drivers’ licenses or birth certificates need to go back to the person’s gender assigned at birth.

“When a particular baby comes out of the womb, it reflects the baby’s weight, the baby’s sex at that time, the baby’s mother and it is a reflection of a historical event and that reflection should be accurate,” Kobach said last week.

The lawsuit filed Friday tries to enforce Kobach’s interpretation of the law, but Kelly disagrees with the attorney general.

The bill, and most of the discussion when it was voted on, focused on physical spaces like bathrooms. The Democratic governor said the state’s current policy on drivers’ licenses and birth certificates should remain unchanged. A 2019 consent decree issued by a federal court allows trans people to change their gender on state documents.

“While the Attorney General has a well-documented record of wasteful and political lawsuits, Governor Kelly is faithfully executing the laws of the state and has directed her administration to as well,” said Brianna Johnson, a spokesperson for the governor. “We look forward to the Kansas Department of Revenue being able to present its case in court.”

The state has continued to allow trans Kansans to change their genders on these documents.

The lawsuit accuses Kelly of ignoring the law. Kobach said the Republican-controlled Legislature has the ultimate say on state law and made it clear that state documents should reflect someone’s gender at birth. He said the governor can’t pick and choose which laws she enforces.

“Someone must stand up for the law,” the lawsuit states, “even if the governor won’t.”

Since 2019, almost 400 people have changed their gender on their drivers’ license and around 900 people have changed their gender on their birth certificates, state agencies overseeing those programs said. People can change their gender because they transitioned or because of errors made at birth. Intersex infants, whose anatomy isn’t obviously either male or female, can also be assigned a gender later in life.

The state agency responsible for birth certificate changes said it isn’t clear how many of the 900 changes were because of a gender transition.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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