Supreme Court: Wyomingites can change sex on birth certificate

CHEYENNE — Wyomingites now have the right to change their sex on their birth certificate, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court in an opinion it issued Wednesday.

In the case of MH versus the State of Wyoming, the Supreme Court reversed a Laramie County District Court decision made by judge Peter Froelicher that stated the court didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction to change MH’s sex on her birth certificate.

MH is going by her initials in the court case to protect her privacy. MH is a transgender woman, and at the time of her birth, she was assigned the male gender, but MH identifies herself as female, according to court documents.

In order to change her sex on her birth certificate, she needed to obtain a court order that instructed the Wyoming Department of Health to do so. The Wyoming Department of Health said it required a court order, which the Laramie County District Court then denied. This put MH in a Catch-22 situation, which caused her to appeal this issue to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The high court ultimately found the district court erred in its ruling and said the district court did have subject matter jurisdiction to issue the court order for MH. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the decision.

For its opinion, the Supreme Court examined whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to rule on MH’s petition.

The high court said there was a “fundamental flaw” in the district court’s reasoning because when it made its ruling, it applied presumption against its jurisdiction, when the Wyoming Constitution requires courts to presume jurisdiction.

The district court stated it couldn’t make a ruling on the MH case because the Vital Records Act, which a birth certificate change falls under, doesn’t contain language about what to do with a sex change. The district court then said the Legislature must have intended to limit the district court’s jurisdiction on such matters because there wasn’t specific language regarding sex changes.

The Wyoming Constitution’s plain language states the district court has original jurisdiction unless it specifically says it’s in the jurisdiction of another court, the high court stated. Therefore the Legislature could have only restricted that jurisdiction by specifically saying so, which they didn’t.

On top of this, the Supreme Court said they also have precedents stating statutory authority doesn’t affect district court jurisdiction. The existence of specific changes for other matters of vital records, such as a name change, also doesn’t tamper with the district court’s jurisdiction, and MH’s petition for a sex change on her birth certificate did invoke the district court’s jurisdiction.

When the Legislature has acted to limit the district court’s jurisdiction, it did so specifically, the high court said. The Wyoming Department of Health also allows for the amendment of any aspect on a person’s birth certificate, including sex.

Justice Keith Kautz also issued an opinion, specially concurring with the Supreme Court’s decision. He said he wrote separately because he thought it was inappropriate for the high court to interpret and advise on the Wyoming Department of Health statutes that weren’t brought up specifically on appeal.

He said the only issue that was brought up on appeal was if the district court had subject matter jurisdiction on MH’s case, which the Supreme Court ruled the district court did and he agrees. However, he said it wasn’t necessary to determine Department of Health regulations and if those regulations applied to MH’s petition.

He said he cannot agree with the high court’s opinion on these matters because that wasn’t what was brought before the court. He also said the flaw in the district court’s logic wasn’t a presumption issue, but it confused subject matter jurisdiction with statutory cause of action.

He said the opinion also fails to distinguish the difference between sex and gender, which “may be two different things in today’s world.” He said the purpose of a birth certificate is to record the “facts of the birth,” and seeking to alter this later “undermine the integrity and the accuracy of the birth certificate.”