Indiana Court of Appeals courtroom

Three-judge panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals regularly hear oral arguments in this courtroom at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Doug Ross, The TImes

INDIANAPOLIS — Transgender Hoosiers should encounter fewer obstacles when seeking court orders to amend their birth certificates or change their legal names, thanks to a recent Indiana Court of Appeals decision.

In its 3-0 ruling, the appellate court reversed a Tippecanoe County judge who insisted that notice of a change in gender marker or name must be published at least three times in a newspaper of general circulation in the petitioner's home county.

The Indiana General Assembly has not established a specific process by which transgender Hoosiers can modify their birth certificates to reflect a gender identity different from the gender the person was identified with at birth.

However, a 2014 Court of Appeals decision legalized the practice by interpreting the Legislature's authorization for the State Department of Health to amend birth certificates to include changes sought by transgender individuals.

At that time, the court held that so long as a judge determines the gender change is being made in good faith, and not for an unlawful purpose, then it must be permitted.

Appeals Judge John Baker, writing in the latest case, said that remains the standard, and county judges cannot just add conditions to requests for birth certificate gender amendments if the good faith test is satisfied.

"The statutory requirement for publication in name-change cases does not apply to gender marker changes," Baker said. "It was erroneous to create a requirement where none exists."

Indiana law indeed does require publication as a condition of changing one's name, though there is an exception if the individual is likely to be endangered by the notice.

The appeals court appeared sympathetic to the notion that all transgender individuals might be allowed to change their names confidentially due to the disproportionate risk of violence and homicide that they face.

But the judges limited the authorization for name changes without publication only to those situations where the person seeking to change his or her name personally has experienced discrimination or witnessed attacks due to transgender status.

They concluded the plaintiff in this case, a transgender male transitioning from life as a female, met that standard after seeing a transgender friend beaten on the street due to her gender identity and being denied an internship when his gender identity did not "match" his Social Security record.

"Publication of his birth name and new name would enable members of the general public to seek him out, placing him at a significant risk of harm," the court said. 

"And in today’s day and age, information that is published in a newspaper is likely to be published on the Internet, where it will remain in perpetuity, leaving (him) at risk for the rest of his life."

It is not known at this time whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly will take action in 2018 to codify the process of birth certificate corrections for transgender Hoosiers.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, filed legislation to prohibit any gender-related birth certificate revisions unless the change was backed by DNA testing or necessary to correct a clerical error.

His proposal, House Bill 1361, did not attract any co-sponsors or advance out of the Public Health Committee.

In 2016, Hoosier lawmakers considered a "bathroom bill" that would have imposed criminal penalties on any person who used a single-sex facility that did not match the gender listed on his or her birth certificate.

Senate Bill 35 also failed to advance out of committee, though six of the 50 state senators signed on as co-sponsors.

State law does prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals if the denial of employment, housing or equal access to public accommodations only is motivated by religious belief.

However, a person would face no legal consequences in discriminating against transgender Hoosiers, as well as lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Indiana, for any other reason, or no reason at all.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.