THE NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Third gender option on driver’s license needs Legislature’s scrutiny

While the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has announced it is offering driver’s licenses and state identification cards with a non-binary gender option for residents who don’t identify as male or female, Republicans in the Statehouse have been considering making that extra option more difficult to attain if not eliminating it altogether.

News-Sentinel.com is troubled that those in the BMV took it upon themselves to make such a change in the law rather than proposing the idea of a third option be handled by state legislators, who are now trying to fix it. Our view is that if a provision is made for those who have changed their gender, it must require solid legal documentation that such a change is permanent.

BMV spokeswoman Susie Guyer said the agency decided to offer the option based on a recommendation by the American Academy of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Indiana law requires applications for a driver’s license or ID card to include information about the applicant’s gender. Guyer explained that residents can now choose a third option “X,” instead of the traditional options of “M” or “F.”

Yes, applicants must present documentation proving a permanent gender change to the BMV. But the problem with the new process is that besides submitting a certified, amended birth certificate to prove gender change, applicants for licenses may instead submit a state form completed by a licensed physician confirming that an individual has undergone treatment to permanently change their gender. And a physician can also submit a signed and dated statement on office letterhead confirming a gender change, as long as the wording used in the statement substantially matches the gender change language required by the Indiana Administrative Code.

Last week, the Republican-led House Roads and Transportation Committee voted 10-3 along party lines to revise SB 182 to allow only the submission of a certified, amended birth certificate to the BMV to complete a gender identity change on BMV-issued credentials.

SB 182 is primarily about the BMV being able to develop a system to issue mobile credentials. But a summary of the bill also adds the following: “Provides a procedure to change the gender that appears on a driver’s license, permit, identification card, or photo exempt identification card.”

Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, the chair of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said the BMV should not be in the business of interpreting doctor’s notes. She said requiring Hoosiers who change their gender to acquire an amended birth certificate will eliminate any processing questions at the BMV.

“It does not say that you cannot change your gender. They still have the process to do that. It does take the BMV out of the picture of making any medical sort of decisions,” she told The Associated Press.

On Monday, state representatives in the General Assembly discussed an amendment to SB 182 that was introduced by Bob Morris of Fort Wayne (District 82) and Curt Nisly of Warsaw (District 22) that would state that sex must either be male or female on the Indiana drivers license, unless the applicant’s sex was mistakenly assigned at birth on a birth certificate. It would replace the word “gender” in the bill with “sex” and would qualify the meaning of “sex” as “an individual’s biological sex, either female or male, as determined at birth.”

Reactions to the Republicans’ concerns and amendments have been predictable. For example, Katie Blair, the ACLU of Indiana’s director of advocacy and public policy, said Sullivan’s proposal is “a spiteful reaction” to the BMV policy making a non-binary gender option available to Hoosiers.

But we think the Legislature is right to make sure such a controversial measure instituted unilaterally by the BMV gets re-examined by lawmakers to make sure it’s not just a tool to change social policy in Indiana.

COMMENTS