SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two transgender Utah residents, who have been denied a change in their sex designation on their driver's licenses by a state judge, are asking the Utah Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
Angie Rice and Sean Childers-Gray both have driver's licenses and insurance cards that have their new names, but still bear the sex designations that were assigned to them at birth.
Second District Judge Noel Hyde granted the name changes, but said a lack of clarity in state law precludes him from granting a change in their gender identity.
Christopher Wharton, the attorney who represents Rice and Childers-Gray, said Judge Hyde is wrong.
State laws that reference sex changes, name changes and gender identity, along with the inherent discretion that judges have, leave more than enough room for granting the petitions, Wharton said.
"I would ask that this court recognize the Legislature's intent in the statutes and dignify the need for congruity between vital records and a person's actual reality," Wharton said Monday during a lengthy argument before the court.
Hyde's 2016 denials are believed to be the first issued in Utah, said Wharton, who successfully represented clients in more than 30 other such cases.
Wharton said in every state but New York, name and gender identity changes are handled in the courts. And in Utah, judges statewide have granted the petitions under "common law authority," The Salt Lake Tribune reported .
The state said the case does not challenge the constitutionality of relevant Utah law or propose a reading of state law that would require sex reassignment surgery and introduce an equal-protection problem. A brief from the office could only address a hypothetical, court papers say, and delay the proceedings.
"I get there is a downside in not having an opposing position," Wharton told the court, "but I think it's noteworthy that the majority of these petitions have been unopposed because this is a policy that is working in Utah."
Rice, who previously lived as a man, flying Air Force rescue helicopters and refueler planes over combat zones, said a ruling in their favor would solve legal and psychological issues for transgender Utah residents.
"I think it will be a close vote," said Rice, now a special education teacher in Morgan who has been married to her spouse for nearly 30 years. "I think (the case) brings to light that the standard ought not to be political or theological; it's a life issue and a civil issue to us, and that standard should not be different based on where you live or what judge you get to see."
Childers-Gray, an associate dean of graphic arts for an online college and who was once known as Jenny Sean Pace, said he believes he and Rice were chosen to fight for other transgender people.
"We won't stop fighting," he said. "We go until we can't go anymore."