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Kansas Judge Doubles Down on Barring Driver’s License Changes, Says It Doesn’t Violate Trans Rights

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Attorney General Kris Kobach
Source: KSN TV/YouTube

A Kansas judge has reaffirmed her ruling to stop people from changing the gender designation on their driver’s licenses. Critics argue that this order infringes upon the rights of transgender individuals. However, District Judge Teresa Watson maintained that the decision does not violate trans rights.

She had initially issued the order in July 2023, which indefinitely prevented the Kansas Department of Revenue from changing the “sex” designation on transgender people’s driver’s licenses. This decision follows a legal battle initiated by Attorney General Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican, against Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s administration. 

Kobach’s lawsuit sought to stop such changes by a 2023 law that revoked legal recognition of transgender individuals’ identities. Watson permitted transgender Kansas residents to join Kobach’s lawsuit, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) advocating on their behalf. 

The ACLU argued that the policy of no changes violated rights safeguarded by the Kansas Constitution. The Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling focused on abortion rights, not LGBTQ+ rights. However, it highlighted constitutional protections important for this case.

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ALSO READ: Nassau County Bans Transgender Athletes From Women and Girls’ Sports at County-Run Facilities

Watson stated that using the right to bodily autonomy to demand changes to driver’s licenses would be unreasonable. She clarified that Kansas residents don’t have a fundamental right, according to the state constitution, to “control what information is displayed on a state-issued driver’s license.”

In her 31-page order issued in Shawnee County, home to the state capital of Topeka, Watson wrote, ‘Information recorded on a driver’s license does not interfere with transgender persons’ ability to control their own bodies or assert bodily integrity or self-determination.”

Since she took office in 2019, Democratic governor Kelly has been a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. During her administration, transgender people were allowed to change their driver’s licenses and birth certificates to match their gender identities.

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However, the Republican-controlled Legislature overturned her veto to pass the 2023 law. This effectively prohibited transgender people from changing either identity document. This change was achieved through the efforts of Attorney General Kris Kobach.

POLL—Should Laws Be Enacted To Protect LGBTQ+ Individuals From Workplace Discrimination?

Kelly stated that laws “stripping away rights” would harm the state’s business appeal. She reaffirmed her vow to veto any bills discriminating against LGBTQ+ people, keeping her promise to uphold their rights.

“Companies have made it clear that they are not interested in doing business with states that discriminate against workers and their families,” Kelly said in her statement. “I’m focused on the economy. Anyone care to join me?”

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However, it is not clear whether Kelly’s administration or transgender Kansas residents will appeal Watson’s ruling. D.C. Hiegert, a transgender ACLU legal fellow in Kansas, expressed concern that the ruling would result in transgender individuals facing harassment and denial of services.

“What possible reason can we articulate to deny our transgender population peace of mind?” added Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing the Kelly administration. “Why this vindictive attitude towards this class of individuals?”

ALSO READ: Mass Walkout: Students Boycott School Over Transgender Matter

Kansas and some other states have passed laws restricting transgender rights. These laws define gender as binary and limit legal recognition for transgender individuals. The Kansas law does not directly address driver’s licenses or birth certificates. 

However, it defines sex as male or female based on biological factors at birth, with no exceptions. Judge Watson upheld this law, stating that the language was clear. Similar measures have been proposed in numerous other states. Kobach declared in a statement: “This decision is a victory for the rule of law and common sense.”

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