Court removes bar to transgender name changes

Associated Press
November 27, 2008
 

This article also discusses New York State's Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court ruling that transgender people can change their names "at will", without any medical requirements or surgery-regardless of a judge's "confusion".

Court removes bar to transgender name changes

By Michael Virtanen - The Associated Press - Novemebr 27, 2008

ALBANY -- A midlevel appeals court ruled Wednesday that a transgender individual can change from traditionally male to traditionally female first and middle names, regardless of potential confusion.

The case involved <REDACTED>'s petition to change names to Elisabeth Whitney Golden. A lower court had concluded the proposed change was "fraught with possible confusion."

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court noted that people can change their names "at will," provided there is no fraud, misrepresentation or interference with the rights of others. Done in court, the switch can be "speedy, definite and a matter of record."

While confusion can be one reason for a judge to reject someone's name change petition, "that factor is not, standing alone, a basis to deny a petition inasmuch as 'confusion is a normal concomitant of any name change,"' Justice Anthony Cardona wrote.

The Golden case, which will now be sent back to state Supreme Court in Broome County, was brought by attorney Franklin Romeo of the New York City-based Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a civil rights group that advocates for gender self-determination. The group says that under the law, a judge cannot require medical evidence of a gender change to support name changes, but some still make that mistake.

Cardona wrote that Golden "satisfied the technical requirements for a name change, under the Civil Rights Law, which include, among other things, that the petition specify the grounds for the application and disclose pertinent background information."

The justices sent the case back to the lower court to issue "the appropriate order."

According to Romeo, when the law project started several years ago, transgender people were denied name changes frequently in New York City, but now they are rarely turned down there. The project has helped about 400 people change their names, and many others have petitioned courts on their own. However, the project does get reports of denials from upstate New York "with some regularity" and from other states.

"This is the first time an appellate court in New York has weighed in on it," Romeo said. "The decision will only be binding in the Third Department. We're hoping it will be persuasive on supreme courts and civil courts throughout the state."

While someone can generally use whatever name they choose under New York common law, Romeo said it becomes difficult without a supporting court document when it comes to obtaining a driver's license, passport or Social Security.

Cardona was joined in the ruling by justices Edward Spain, Anthony Carpinello, Bernard Malone Jr. and Leslie Stein.

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