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CA Governor Newsom vetoes trans marriage records bill

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Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to allow trans people to update vital records, saying that it would have had unintended privacy consequences. Equality California plans to work on a revised version of the bill next year. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to allow trans people to update vital records, saying that it would have had unintended privacy consequences. Equality California plans to work on a revised version of the bill next year. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Concerned that it would publicly reveal a person had changed their gender identity, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill aimed at allowing transgender Californians to update their marriage certificates and the birth certificates of their children to accurately reflect their legal name and gender.

The legislation, Senate Bill 741, was the first LGBTQ-focused bill to be authored by lesbian state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), who is termed out of office this year. Galgiani had introduced the bill, which was meant to protect people's privacy, in 2019 but had held it over to this year.

Under the bill, a court order would require the California Department of Public Health or a country registrar to update the vital record certificates of a person with one that doesn't reveal they had changed their name and gender.

But Newsom announced Tuesday, September 29, that he was sending the bill back to the Legislature without his signature. In a veto message, he stated he supports the policy goal of the legislation but expressed misgivings about the ramifications of carrying it out as written.

"I strongly support the overall policy of changing vital records to accurately reflect gender identity. Unfortunately, this bill fails to give the state registrar, which is within CDPH, clear authority to issue a new marriage certificate," wrote Newsom. "As a result, CDPH would only be able to amend the marriage certificates under other applicable amendment statutes, resulting in the original gender, and the fact that there was a change to the listed gender, visible and open to the public."

Newsom added that he has concerns "that this would shine a spotlight on any individual who has changed their gender and I believe that this runs contrary to the intent of this legislation."

Galgiani told the Bay Area Reporter Wednesday that she was "caught by surprise" with the concerns about the bill's implementation, as it wasn't flagged by the state health department until it was sent to the governor's desk.

"I am so disappointed," she said about seeing the bill be delayed another year.

Having come out of the closet while serving in the Legislature, Galgiani noted she has personal experience about having one's private life become public. Thus, she wouldn't want someone's gender transition being disclosed without their approval because of her legislation and expressed gratitude that such a possibility was flagged before the bill became law.

"I want to err on the side of caution and ensure we preserve the privacy of the individual going through that life change. For me, I came out as lesbian as an adult, and it was a very daunting experience for me in the Central Valley," said Galgiani. "It was always extremely important for me to feel I had control of who I shared my new self with when I made those choices. I can't imagine how invasive it would feel to someone who expected privacy to all of a sudden learn their private information would become public."

In a note added to its legislation page on its website, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California described the issue as "an inadvertent drafting error that did not allow sufficient time for implementation." It pledged to work with state lawmakers to pass a revised version of the bill in 2021.

Because EQCA asked the governor to veto the legislation in order to address the issue, it is unlikely to result in Newsom being penalized on the organization's annual scorecard for the governor and state lawmakers.

"This is an important policy and I am committed to working with the Legislature and sponsors during the next legislative session to protect individual policy," pledged Newsom in his veto message.

So far Newsom has signed into law bills that require state health officials to collect communicable disease data from providers and laboratories that include a patient's gender identity and sexual orientation, establishes an unfunded for now Transgender and Wellness Equity Fund, and allows transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex (TGI) inmates to choose if they want to be housed in men's or women's state prisons.

He also has signed bills that end discriminatory practices people living with HIV face when seeking insurance policies and the automatic placement of gay and lesbian young adults on the state's sex offender registry.

Wednesday afternoon Newsom signed Assembly Bill 979 by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), which requires by January 2023 that every publicly held corporation in California needs to have a certain number of their board of directors be from underrepresented communities, including people who self-identify as from the LGBTQ community.

UPDATED 9/30/2020 with comments from state Senator Cathleen Galgiani and Newsom's signing AB 979.

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