Federal Court in Puerto Rico Issues Moving Opinion Striking Down Anti-Transgender Birth Certificate Policy

In The News
April 23, 2018
R. Daniel O'Connor ,
Richard D. Batchelder, Jr.

On Friday, April 20, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico released its opinion and order in a federal lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and Ropes & Gray, Arroyo Gonzalez et al v. Rossello Nevares, holding that denying accurate birth certificates to transgender people is a violation of their constitutional right to privacy. The opinion and order mandates that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico adopt the same application process already employed for corrections of driver’s licenses for transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates to reflect their sex based on their gender identity.

In a powerful conclusion, the opinion stated:

“The right to identify our own existence lies at the heart of one’s humanity. And so, we must heed their voices: ‘the woman that I am,’ ‘the man that I am.’ Plaintiffs know they are not fodder for memoranda legalese. They have stepped up for those whose voices, debilitated by raw discrimination, have been hushed into silence. They cannot wait for another generation, hoping for a lawmaker to act. They, like Linda Brown, took the steps to the courthouse to demand what is due: their right to exist, to live more and die less.”

Last April, Ropes & Gray and Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four transgender Puerto Ricans and the LGBTQ rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s arguing that denying transgender Puerto Ricans the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Rico’s birth certificate policy was also at odds with the federal government’s policies and with those of 46 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

“The opinion released today upholds the constitutional and fundamental rights of transgender individuals in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to self-identify. In particular, we are pleased with the court’s distinction that the Commonwealth’s ban on changing the gender marker in plaintiffs’ birth certificates implicates a violation of personal and informational privacy recognized by the Fourteenth Amendment,” said Dan O’Connor, a member of the Ropes & Gray pro bono team.

The Ropes & Gray team is led by litigation & enforcement partner Dan O’Connor and includes litigation & enforcement partner Richard Batchelder.

It is unclear whether the Defendants will appeal the ruling.

Ropes & Gray has been recognized for its work assisting LGBTQ individuals with legal questions across the U.S. This development comes on the heels of the firm’s pro bono work in the case McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to review a ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court, preserving the equal treatment of same- and opposite-sex spouses. Learn more about the firm’s dedicated pro bono efforts here.