Ian-Meredythe Lindsey wants their marriage license to reflect who they are. The Maine resident has been with their partner Kylie Groat for more than two years. The couple will be married next February.
Last June, Lindsey won a historic victory for non-binary, intersex, and transgender Mainers when the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles agreed to issue Lindsey a gender marker “X” on their state ID.
But last week, while doing research for the upcoming wedding, Lindsey made an unfortunate discovery about the state’s marriage application: applicants are offered just two gender options, “male” or “female.”
“When you’re looking at a marriage license, why does it matter?” Lindsey says in an interview with NewNowNext. “Why do you need to check it off?”
Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, says the agency has no plans to update its system. “Maine Vital Records forms use gender-neutral terms [for spouses] and do collect information on sex, but we permit individuals to leave the sex field blank if they wish,” Farwell tells NewNowNext. “At this time, we do not have plans to incorporate changes.”
In other words, non-binary, intersex, and trans people with “X” gender markers can marry in Maine. They just can’t identify their legal sex on the forms like everyone else.
Maine is hardly alone in declining to address its non-binary IDs.
Half of the nine states that have rolled out non-binary IDs in recent years have failed to update their marriage license applications to account for the IDs.
Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Utah, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., all offer non-binary IDs. Vermont will make them available to residents this summer.
But just California, Oregon, Vermont, and D.C. provide forms that either don’t ask applicants to specify a gender or offer an option beyond the binary. In Utah, the forms vary by county.
Colorado, which has issued gender-neutral IDs since fall 2018, still asks applicants to specify if they are male or female.
The state, home to the country’s first gay male Governor Jared Polis, will update those forms by this summer, says Jessica Bralish, director of communications for Department of Health and Environment.
“They will be meeting in the next week or so to discuss that update, along with any others, to the marriage application, and set an estimated launch date and change management plan to roll it out the new application across all counties in Colorado,” Bralish tells NewNowNext.
Until then, Coloradans with “X” gender markers who want to marry must legally misgender themselves on their marriage applications, Bralish confirms: “Individuals who consider themselves non-binary in gender would not have a marriage license that reflects a non-binary option if they sought to get married now.”
Some states erroneously claim that their marriage forms are gender-neutral because they specify applicants as “spouses” instead of “bride” and “groom,” a change that was made when marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015. But in some instances, those states continue to ask spouses for their gender and offer just two options.
Kathryn Dolan, Chief Public Information Officer of the Indiana Supreme Court, notes that the state’s forms only “designates Applicant 1 and Applicant 2.”
But Indiana, which quietly began issuing non-binary IDs earlier this month, has also failed to keep pace by updating its marriage application. It asks those applicants to state if they are male or female. Officials there did not respond to multiple requests from NewNowNext to clarify if those with “X” gender markers could marry in the state.
Minnesota is another example where officials did not respond to a multiple requests to comment on its binary marriage applications.
Jacob Thomas, Communications Coordinator for the LGBTQ advocacy organization OutFront Minnesota, says the organization hasn’t heard of anyone being denied a marriage license due their non-binary ID.
“When our marriage law passed in 2013, departments were directed to read forms as gender-neutral anyway with regard to marriage,” Thomas says.
Despite those directives, however, Minnesota’s marriage application continues to ask applicants if they are male or female.
Arkansas officials did not respond to multiple requests about how the state treats its non-binary IDs, which have been offered since 2010. At least some counties do not require gender markers, like in Pulaski County, according to the County Circuit and County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth.
“The [state] statute does not require gender information,” Hollingsworth confirms, but counties are treated on a case-by-case basis.
A marriage certificate obtained by Arkansas transgender activist Andrea Zekis and provided to NewNowNext does not specify gender or sex for the spouses.
Utah marriage applications also vary by county, according Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. Utah County, for example, ask spouses to specify binary gender (officials there also did not respond to a request to comment). Salt Lake County, however, did away with that practice with the advent of marriage equality in the state 2013, explains Swensen.
“If you did a marriage license in any county in Utah, you can use that license anywhere in the state of Utah,” continues Swensen. “So it wouldn’t preclude them from getting married in Utah. Maybe they just haven’t caught up with the concept yet.”
Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, says the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling should have removed gender from the marriage regulations altogether.
“We’ve already seen the common sense approach of gender neutral markers work for driver’s licenses and birth certificates in states and municipalities big and small,” says Branstetter. “There’s no reason such policies couldn’t be replicated in this important part of a person’s life as well.”
For Lindsey, obtaining a non-binary ID in Maine last year was life-altering in ways they had not predicted.
“Something about having that validation on a government document, for me, did wonders for my self-worth and combating that internalized transphobia of the world telling me that I don’t exist, [that] there’s not a place for me,” Lindsey says.
Now, Lindsey has to decide what to do about their marriage application: forgo the question of sex/gender altogether, or take on Maine a second time for the right be reflected in government documentation.
“I was thinking of handwriting my own box,” says Lindsey. “I have a feeling if I were to handwrite in something, then I would make a whole bunch of government bureaucrats upset that I wasn’t just staying within the boxed lines.”