NYC Moves to Protect Trans’ Access to Marriage Licenses

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) announced on March 8 that the city of New York has initiated a new policy to ensure that transgender people have equal access to marriage licenses.

City Clerk Michael McSweeney, in a February 7 memorandum to staff in his office, stated that applicants for a license need only provide one valid form of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. So long as the two IDs from the applicants indicate they are an opposite-gender couple, they are eligible for a license.

“Gender stereotypes or preconceived notions related to gender expression –– including an applicant’s physical appearance, dress, behavior, or name –– may not be considered,” McSweeney wrote.

“I expect every employee of the Clerk’s Office to treat all applicants and visitors to the Marriage Bureau with dignity and respect,” he also stated.

According to TLFDEF, the new policy statement came as part of an agreement to resolve threatened litigation by a transgender couple identified only as Jane and John.

The two are an opposite-sex couple in a relationship for more than a decade who attempted to obtain a marriage license in the Bronx in 2009. Although they provided the required identification, the Clerk’s Office demanded they produce birth certificates to prove their genders.

In addition to adopting the new policy, the Clerk’s Office agreed to provide staff training on issues regarding gender identity and expression, to apologize to the couple, and to ensure their right to marry.

“Transgender people are challenged all the time about their status as men and women,” said TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman in a written statement. “We applaud the City Clerk’s Office for adopting this policy and for taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”

TLDEF credited the assistance of attorneys Carmine Boccuzzi, David Brown, and Nathan Horst of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

New York City adopted a transgender civil rights law in 2002.

Opposite-sex couples do not have the right to marry in New York State.