The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Oregonians whose gender identify falls outside of the male-female binary can change their legal gender marker to nonbinary through their local circuit court.
The ruling overturns a July 2019 decision by Lane County Circuit Judge Charles D. Carlson, who determined that Jones Hollister, a Eugene resident, could not change their legal marker to nonbinary despite identifying as such.
"While the court is sympathetic to the Petitioner's present circumstance," Carlson wrote, "it is for the Oregon Legislature to determine whether they wish to abandon binary sexual classifications for gender classifications adding and defining a third classification of nonbinary and to formulate a procedure to implement this policy decision."
But the Court of Appeals today determined that Oregon statutes do not prevent a person from identifying as nonbinary.
"The term 'nonbinary' is not mentioned in [Oregon statutes]," the Appeals Court wrote. "But because it is the gender identity to which petitioner seeks to change, we note that the term 'nonbinary' is now, and was in 2017, well understood to encompass the gender identity of one who identifies as neither entirely male nor entirely female, as modern dictionaries and other sources show.
"The circuit court's authority to grant the requested change of legal sex
is not restricted to male or female; rather, the new sex designation must affirm the petitioner's gender identity whether that is male, female or nonbinary," the Appeals Court said.
Back in June 2017, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to allow nonbinary citizens to mark "X" on their driver's license, rather than "M" or "F." However, that administrative change to a driver's license applies only within Oregon, the Portland Mercury reported. Today's ruling, which requires local circuit courts to allow a person to change their gender marker, ensures other states and the federal government recognize a person's identity as nonbinary.
"I am so thrilled. I'm thrilled for not just myself but for all nonbinary Oregonians," said Hollister, the plaintiff in the Court of Appeals ruling. "This ruling does not make me nonbinary. I was nonbinary long before this case. But this ruling means that I will have court paperwork confirming my identity. They can't just change the administrative rules and take away my legal status as nonbinary. It is legally affirmed."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon previously filed an amicus brief in support of Hollister's case. Basic Rights Oregon, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, partnered with ACLU Oregon to ensure courts could understand the impacts the decision would make on nonbinary Oregonians.
"This is an enormous step forward toward a world where nonbinary people are fully recognized by our government," said Kieran Chase, transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon. "To be clear, the law does not determine whether we exist—but when the law is just, it reflects what we know to be true and right. Nonbinary people are here, we know who we are, we have existed since the dawn of humanity, and we deserve to be acknowledged by the government that represents us, no matter where in Oregon we live."