A judge worried that approving the name changes of two transgender people would offend the “sensibilities and mores” of Georgians was smacked down by an appeals court on Friday.
The Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously overruled Superior Court Judge J. David Roper, who in 2016 twice refused to grant the name change requests of two transgender people in the Augusta area. But the appeals court granted the requests to Rowan Feldhaus (photo left) and Andrew Baumert (photo right) and ordered Roper to enter an order changing the names of the two men.
In the court's ruling, Judge Elizabeth Branch said nothing in Georgia law prevented the trans men from changing their names. Via AJC:
In Friday’s ruling, Branch noted there is “nothing in the law prohibiting a person from taking or assuming another name, so long as he does not assume a name for the purpose of defrauding other persons through a mistake of identity.”
As for Feldhaus and Baumert, Branch wrote, “There was no evidence before the trial court to authorize a conclusion that either of them were acting with any improper motive against any specific person.”
Baumert called the ruling “amazing,” according to the AJC.
Feldhaus and Baumert appealed Roper's decisions last year with the help of Lambda Legal.
Feldhaus started the process to change his name in July 2015 to help align his legal documents with his identity. At a hearing in February 2016, Feldhaus provided the information needed for the name change, Lambda Legal said, but Roper refused. A month later, Roper rejected the name change, Lambda Legal said.
In March, Judge Roper denied Rowan’s petition based on what he describes as “this court’s policy” of denying names that are not indicative of gender in a way he personally approves. He also cited his concern that Rowan’s name might offend the “sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state.” Lambda Legal is appealing the denial and challenging the judge’s unfair and unlawful policy.
Roper denied Baumert's name change during a brief hearing last June. Roper told Baumert to pick a more “gender-neutral name,” according to Lambda.
At the hearing on his petition, held on June 2, 2016, Andrew provided all the necessary information for a name change. Andrew’s mother, father and grandmother went to the hearing with him and his mother testified to how Andrew did not “feel comfortable in his skin” prior to his transition and that he had a “team of doctors” who were treating him for gender dysphoria. After only nine minutes, the court denied Andrew’s request for a name change applying the same discriminatory “policy” as applied to Rowan, that “ [it] will not change a name from an obviously female to an obviously male name, and vice versa.”
Superior Court Judge J. David Roper said “my policy is to allow someone who claims to be transgendering [sic] —and I’ve had them in various stages—my policy is to permit someone to change, in your case, from an obviously—what appears to me to be a female name to something that is gender–neutral.” In denying Andrew’s petition, the court suggested several names “I can live with,” including Morgan, Shannon, Shaun and Jaimie. Roper said that for Andrew to have a name that matches his gender identity would “confuse or mislead the general public.”