Victory! NYC Marriage Bureau Issues Policy Ensuring Transgender People Equal Access to Marriage Licenses

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March 8, 2011 - We are happy to announce that the City of New York’s Marriage Bureau has taken steps to ensure that transgender people have equal access to marriage licenses. New transgender sensitivity trainings have been implemented and a written policy has been distributed to all staff in the wake of an incident in which a transgender couple was denied a marriage license. The couple wishes to remain private and we refer to them as Jane and John.

Jane and John are both transgender.  They are an opposite-sex couple who have been in a relationship for over a decade.  In December 2009, they attempted to marry in the Bronx.  They fulfilled all of the requirements for receiving a marriage license in New York City and presented their government-issued photo identification – the only identification required of all New Yorkers by the City Clerk’s office.  Rather than issuing the marriage license, the City Clerk refused and instead demanded that Jane and John produce their birth certificates before they could be married – something not required of other marriage license applicants.

The couple threatened legal action and also contacted the Office of City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn for assistance in the matter. The Speaker’s Office worked successfully with the couple, TLDEF and the City Clerk’s Office to address the situation. As a result, new training procedures were developed and a statement of the Clerk’s policy was distributed to all employees in the City Clerk’s Office to ensure that all New Yorkers are treated equally.

Under the terms of the policy, issued on Feb. 7, 2011, once a marriage license applicant produces the required photo ID, the City Clerk may not request additional proof of sex.  Moreover, City Clerk employees are forbidden from considering the applicant's appearance or preconceived notions related to gender expression when deciding whether to issue a marriage license.

“Transgender people are challenged all the time about their status as men and women,” said TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman.  “Our clients are legally entitled to marry and were denied that right just because they are transgender.  We applaud the City Clerk’s office for adopting this policy and for taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”

In addition to the adoption of the new policy and implementation of the training program, the City Clerk sent a written apology to Jane and John, and has ensured that they may marry at a time and place of their choosing.

In addition to TLDEF, the legal team on this matter included Carmine Boccuzzi, David Brown and Nathan Horst of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.  We are grateful for their assistance.

Thank you for your support of our work.  We will continue to update you on this and other case developments.