The Appellate Group

Matter of Childers-Gray

Matter of Childers-Gray, 2021 UT 13 (Himonas, J.)

Sex-change petition; Common Law; Statutory Interpretation

Appellants petitioned the district court to change their legal sex designations because the designations did not reflect their identities. The district court denied their petitions, reasoning that it lacked authority to grant the petitions because the Utah Legislature had not set forth standards and procedures for adjudicating sex-change petitions. The Utah Supreme Court reversed in a lengthy opinion, which held, among other things, that:

  • “A person has a common-law right to change facets of their personal legal status, including their sex designation.” Neither the Utah Code nor the Utah Constitution bar Utah courts from adjudicating sex-change petitions.  To the contrary, “Utah law presupposes a district court’s authority to order name and sex changes.” See Utah Code § 26-2-11(1) (discussing the procedure after a person “has a name change or sex change approved by an order of a Utah district court”).
  • Utah courts should grant sex-change petitions if (1) they are not sought for a wrongful or fraudulent purpose, and (2) they are supported by objective evidence of a sex change, which includes, at minimum, evidence of appropriate clinical care or treatment for gender transitioning or change, provided by a licensed medical professional.
  • Concurrence: Chief Justice Durrant concurred with the majority, but wrote separately to say he would not invoke the court’s common law authority, but would instead treat the matter as a question of statutory interpretation. He interpreted the statutory scheme as intending for the same standard to apply to sex changes as name changes. To more closely parallel the name-change standard, he would stop at the first prong (that the change be sought for proper cause).
  • Dissent: Justice Lee dissented on the grounds that he read the provision of the Utah Code enacted in 1975 that provides courts with authority to amend a person’s “sex” designation on a birth certificate to be “a plain reference to biological sex” and “not an invitation for judicial development of an evolved standard of ‘gender identity.’” He viewed the majority as “exceeding the bounds of [the court’s] jurisdiction” and “effectively rewriting a statute enacted by the legislature in 1975.”

Read the full court opinion