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Kansas judge says transgender rights not violated by state’s refusal to change sex on driver’s licenses

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A Kansas judge ruled on Monday that the rights of transgender individuals are not violated under the state constitution by the state’s refusal to change their sex on driver’s licenses. 

In a 30-page decision, District Judge Teresa Watson sided with Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, allowing his directive that the Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR) issue licenses that comply with a person’s biological sex at birth to stand. 

“The Attorney General asserts that the threat of injury to the State of Kansas pending a final decision on the merits is that driver’s licenses are issued for a period of six years and are difficult to take back or out of circulation once issued. Licenses are used by law enforcement to identify criminal suspects, crime victims, wanted persons, missing persons, and others,” Watson wrote. “Compliance with stated legal requirements for identifying license holders is a public safety concern. Allowing KDOR to issue non-compliant driver’s licenses pending a final decision on the merits is an immediate and irreparable injury.”

In 2023, Kansas’ Republican-controlled legislature passed what’s known as Senate Bill 180, or the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” with wide margins and later overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. It became law last July and defines biological sex as either male or female at birth. 

KANSAS AG ACCUSES STATE SCHOOLS OF HIDING TRANSITIONING OF STUDENTS FROM PARENTS

Kobach holds a microphone

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach. (Emily Curiel/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

It states that a “female” is an individual whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova, and a “male” is an individual whose biological reproductive system is developed to fertilize the ova of a female; the terms “woman” and “girl” refer to human females, and the terms “man” and “boy” refer to human males. It also states that the term mother means parent of the female sex and the term father applies to the parent of the male sex. 

There are legal protections for individuals with a medically verifiable diagnosis of “disorder/difference in sex development,” the legislation also clarifies. 

Though the law does not mention driver’s licenses, Kobach, a conservative Republican, asked the District Court of Shawnee County to order officials of the Kansas Department of Revenue to comply with the law when issuing driver’s licenses and other documents with sex designations and in maintaining the corresponding information in the KDOR database.  

Days before it took effect, Kobach issued a formal opinion that concluded, among other things, that Senate Bill 180 requires KDOR to “list the licensee’s ‘biological sex, either male or female, at birth’ on driver’s licenses that it issues” and “update its data set to reflect the licensee’s sex at birth and include that sex on any licenses it issues to that individual in the future.” 

KANSAS OFFICIALS SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO KEEP CHANGING TRANSGENDER PEOPLE’S BIRTH CERTIFICATES, JUDGE SAYS

Kansas governor

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a state bill defining biological sex at birth.  (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The governor then directed the KDOR not to comply with the state attorney general’s order and instead keep existing “gender reclassification policy.” 

The District Court of Shawnee County granted Kobach’s request for a temporary restraining order, requiring KDOR to immediately cease and desist from processing requests from individuals asking to change their listed sex on their driver’s licenses and require new licenses be issued only to reflect an individual’s “biological sex” as defined by Senate Bill 180.

Watson further granted Kobach’s request for a temporary injunction on Monday after allowing five transgender individuals to intervene in the lawsuit. 

The judge noted how those intervenors argue that requiring KDOR to display a licensee’s sex at birth on a driver’s license and in the KDOR database violates Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, which states, “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

They argued violations of three rights: personal autonomy, informational privacy and equal protection of the law. 

Kobach smiles on election night

Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for Kansas attorney general, talks to the media before an election night watch party on Nov. 8, 2022, in Topeka, Kansas.  (Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Watson asserts there is no violation of those three rights, and specifically when it comes to equal protection, “sex is a vital statistic” collected from all license holders. 

“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,” Watson wrote. 

The 30-page decision also noted how the Kansas Supreme Court’s declaration in 2019 that the state constitution grants a right to bodily autonomy applies to abortion, not LGBTQ+ rights. 

Championing the ruling, Kobach said in a statement, “This decision is a victory for the rule of law and common sense. The Legislature wisely stated that state agencies should record biological sex at birth, and today the court held that the meaning of the law is clear.” 

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D.C. Hiegert, an ACLU of Kansas LGBGQ+ legal fellow who is transgender, condemned the ruling, writing in a statement obtained by Politico, “We will continue working toward a vision of our state that allows all of us to live in peace, free from government persecution and impositions on our core identities.” 

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