On October 15th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing people to identify as nonbinary (neither male or female) on driver licenses and birth certificates. In signing Bill SB179, Brown made California the first state to formally recognize nonbinary people.
The “California Gender Recognition Act” describes nonbinary as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male.” Many nonbinary people go by gender-neutral pronouns like “they” or “them,” and some use gender-neutral honorifics like Mx, included in the Oxford Dictionary in 2015.
The bill was initially proposed by the Transgender Law Center, an organization aimed at guaranteeing legal rights for trans people and co-authored by Senators Toni Atkins and Scott Wiener. It has three distinct provisions, all of them aimed at the legal recognition of transgender people. While the bill allows people to identify as nonbinary on state documents, it also removes the previous requirement for trans people to get a doctor’s statement and appear in court to change their legal gender, and also gives minors a process to apply for gender changes on their birth certificates.
Senator Atkins expected the bill to generate controversy but, during the nine months it was tabled, there was little political resistance. The main public opposition was the conservative California Family Council, who argued that the bill did not reflect “biological facts,” and urged Californians to “think of their children.” Nevertheless, the bill’s passage wasn’t certain, as nobody knew where Governor Brown stood on the issue until five minutes before the midnight deadline.
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