Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration said Wednesday it has halted, at least temporarily, a planned policy change that would have forced people living as the opposite sex to get transgender surgery before they could change the gender on their driver's licenses.
The change was to have taken effect Friday, the start of the new year. It would have replaced a policy that now requires only written confirmation from a physician or psychologist that the applicant is under supervision for a gender change.
The gay rights group Equality Maryland opposed the change because of the additional costs it would have imposed on those who are living openly as the opposite sex but haven't had sex-change operations. Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets said her group will continue its discussions with the state attorney general's office, which urged the MVA in 2007 to make the change.
"It's far from over," Meneses-Sheets said.
The Maryland dispute mirrors a debate simmering in many states, partly as a result of the federal Real ID Act, an anti-terrorism measure passed in 2005. To prevent forgery of driver's licenses, states can require Real ID-compliant licenses that match one's birth certificate, Social Security number and immigration status.
The Maryland dispute centers on birth certificates. Transgender people in Maryland can apply to the MVA for either a "transitional" gender change on their licenses, which requires only the doctor's note, or a permanent change, which requires either an amended birth certificate or a court order specifying that one's sex has changed. To get either of those documents, one must have had the surgery, Meneses-Sheets said.
The proposed policy change would have rescinded the transitional category, which was created in 2000.
The Maryland MVA said in a statement that it believes the current policy is secure and reasonably accommodates those making a gender change, but it acknowledged an apparent conflict with state law.
In a 2007 memo to the MVA administrator, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Acton wrote that 91 people had had transitional gender changes on their driver's licenses. Acton said such licenses could raise questions for police, including where to house those individuals during detention.
Acton cited a 2003 Maryland Court of Appeals decision in advising the MVA that "the gender designation on a driver's license must be the same as on the birth certificate."
Meneses-Sheets said Maryland's current policy is in line with those in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
She said the proposed change would have placed Maryland in the company of Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas.
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