With a pair of unanimous votes on Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate approved bills that would make it easier for homeless youth and adults to access state IDs, and for Bay Staters to make sure their state identification documents accurately reflect their gender identity.
A round of applause broke out in the Senate chamber after the 39-0 vote on a bill that Sen. Jo Comerford said would allow “gender representation on state documents and IDs to be as beautifully diverse as the people in our commonwealth.”
Comerford’s bill would let people more easily change their gender — to male, female or a gender-neutral “X” marker — on birth certificates, and codify the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ current practice of offering “X” as a gender option on driver’s licenses, permits and other ID cards. People will no longer be required to provide medical documentation when they request such a change. The bill also directs state officials to develop a plan, including a timeline and cost estimates, for rolling out a nonbinary gender designation on all state forms and documents.
“People know what gender they are. They don't need a doctor's note or the state to tell them,” said Comerford, one of three Senate members of the Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus. “Our current binary options are archaic, limited and overly restrictive, and have created a situation where government is infringing on people's civil right to self-identify.”
Before the final vote, senators adopted an amendment from Andover Sen. Barry Finegold that would also allow for gender changes and nonbinary gender markers on Massachusetts marriage certificates.
Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, said an "X" gender designation is now available on passports, and that 16 states and Washington, D.C., allow the same designation on birth certificates. At least 22 states and D.C. currently have "X" a gender option on driver's licenses, she said.
The second bill senators passed on Thursday directs the RMV to develop a process through which people experiencing homelessness can apply for a state ID card without paying a fee or providing address information.
Sen. Robyn Kennedy’s bill would let adults and unaccompanied youth prove their Massachusetts residency by providing alternative documents, like papers from a shelter or other service provider.
“Imagine for a moment that your barrier to obtaining employment, applying for housing and gaining access to health insurance was simply a matter of providing adequate identification, and that without your Massachusetts state ID, you would be unable to acquire the most basic of human needs, such as food,” said Kennedy, a Worcester Democrat. “For approximately 20,000 people living in the commonwealth, this is a reality, and obtaining state identification is the first critical step in accomplishing typical life tasks that can lift them out of homelessness.”
The Senate’s votes Thursday send the pair of bills to the House for consideration. Last session, the Senate unanimously passed similar bills, and each died after the House Ways and Means Committee did not act on them.