Ohio Supreme Court hears case on transgender birth certificates

By: - April 6, 2023 4:50 am

“Gavel,” a sculpture by Andrew F. Scott, outside the Supreme Court of Ohio. Credit: Sam Howzit / Creative Commons.

Justices on the Ohio Supreme Court heard the argument of a woman who was denied the ability to change her birth certificate to match her gender identity.

Clark County resident Hailey Emmeline Adelaide applied for a change to the sex marker on her birth certificate in October of 2021, but the county’s probate court decided it “lacked authority” under Ohio law to issue the correction.

In attempting to get the marker changed, Adelaide told the court she “had always identified as female – as long as she could remember” and that her gender identity “had not changed throughout her entire life,” according to court documents.

She included in her documentation affidavits from her therapist and a supervising clinical psychologist.

An appeals court upheld the probate court decision, saying the Ohio Revised Code statute regarding corrections to birth certificates “does not expressly authorize changes to sex markers.”

Attorneys for Adelaide pushed for review by the Ohio Supreme Court, saying the appeals court and the probate court wrongly interpreted the “catchall” Ohio law too narrowly, and arguing it “places no substantive limitations on the types of corrections that can be made.”

Adelaide’s attorneys also said the decision was contrary to guidance from the Ohio Department of Health on making such changes.

The case came with support from TransOhio and other pro-LGBTQ rights groups, along with the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus. The major cities argued that the change was necessary for “accurate identification,” which they said was “essential for government operations.”

“Rather than aiding government functions, refusing sex marker corrections for transgender Ohioans makes the work of government more difficult and more dangerous,” attorneys for the cities wrote to the court.

Adelaide’s attorney, Chad Eggspuehler, made a similar argument before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday, calling to question individual discretion from one county probate court to another.

“For the average Ohio citizen, it’s the luck of the draw,” Eggspuehler said. “If you’re born in one county, your birth certificate correction, should you apply for this, is processed. And if you’re born in a different one, it will not be.”

Justices did point out one missing factor in the case: opposition.

“There’s nobody opposing this,” said Justice Patrick Fischer, who, along with Justice Patrick DeWine, dissented even to a court review of the case.

Eggspuehler pushed back, saying Adelaide was not opposed to hearing arguments from the Ohio Department of Health or other entities who rejected the change to her birth certificate, but sees a bigger adversary in the case: ambiguity and inconsistency.

“There are a handful of probate courts that are not following (the Ohio Department of Health’s) guidance,” he said.

Fischer indicated that he still wasn’t sure this case was up to the state’s highest court to decide, or even any member of the judicial branch.

“I see this more as an executive or a legislative issue, not so much a judicial one, because there’s no case and controversy and there’s nobody opposing it,” Fischer said.

The case comes as the Ohio legislature considers legislation to ban transgender women from participating in athletics consistent with their gender identity, and the U.S. Supreme Court looking at a similar issue out of West Virginia. A U.S. House panel also passed a bill to do the same nationally.

The rights of transgender individuals have even taken hold as an argument to increase the threshold needed to amend the Ohio Constitution.



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.