Indiana Court: Transgenders Can Be Exempt From Name Change Law

"Publication of his birth name and new name would enable members of the general public to seek him out, placing him at a significant risk of harm."

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that transgender individuals can be exempt from a name change law. While Indiana state law requires that all residents who intend to change their name publish an announcement of the change in their home county newspaper at least three times for public record, the court ruled 3-0 on Thursday that transgender people can get an exemption from the law. The court also ruled that changing one's gender on a birth certificate does not fall under the publication law.

Indiana state law requires that a name change is announced at least three times in a newspaper from the petitioner's home county in order to mark the change in public record. An exemption for this requirement is only allowed if doing so might endanger an individual.

The appeals court ruled that transgender individuals who had personally experienced or even just witnessed discrimination of someone else due to their transgenderism could use the exemption to avoid making the name change public. The NorthWest Indiana Times reports:

Indiana law indeed does require publication as a condition of changing one's name, though there is an exception if the individual is likely to be endangered by the notice.

The appeals court appeared sympathetic to the notion that all transgender individuals might be allowed to change their names confidentially due to the disproportionate risk of violence and homicide that they face.

But the judges limited the authorization for name changes without publication only to those situations where the person seeking to change his or her name personally has experienced discrimination or witnessed attacks due to transgender status.

Appellate Court Judge John Baker, who penned the ruling, explained that the court felt that publication of the plaintiff's name could make the plaintiff a target, particularly in the internet age where publications are permanent.

"Publication of his birth name and new name would enable members of the general public to seek him out, placing him at a significant risk of harm," he wrote in the court's reversal of a Tippacanoe County judge's previous ruling.

"In today’s day and age, information that is published in a newspaper is likely to be published on the Internet, where it will remain in perpetuity, leaving (him) at risk for the rest of his life,” he wrote.

As for announcement of officially changing one's birth certificate to list a different gender than one's biological sex (which began to be allowed in 2014), Baker said that the publication requirement does not apply.

"The statutory requirement for publication in name-change cases does not apply to gender marker changes," Baker wrote. "It was erroneous to create a requirement where none exists."

HotAir's Jazz Shaw points out that Indiana is not the first state to provide a special exemption to transgenders in name change laws; Oregon has recently passed a law "shielding" transgender individuals from name and gender change publication requirements. Prior to Oregon, California passed similar special exemption laws.

Here's Indiana's publication law as it appears in the official judiciary website, clearly laying out the requirements for all residents (via Shaw):

  • The court will set a hearing date when you file your Petition. Make sure this date is filled in on the Notice of Petition for Change of Name.
  • You will need to take the Notice of Petition for Change of Name to the person who handles legal notices in your local newspaper. This Notice must appear once a week for three weeks. The last publication date must be at least thirty days before your hearing date.
  • The newspaper will send a proof of publication notice to you, which you will attach to the Notice of Filing Proof of Publication and then file these forms with the Court.

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