ArticlesVolume 17, Number 3 (2008)

Should a Trip from Illinois to Tennessee Change a Woman into a Man: Proposal for a Uniform Interstate Sex Reassignment Recognition Act


In Illinois, a transgender woman’ who has had sex reassignment surgery can request an amendment to her birth certificate to change her legally-recognized sex (legal sex)2 from the sex assigned at birth to one she chooses later in life. Though she was born male, she can become legally¬†female by amending her birth records. She is able to marry a man, adopt a female name, and incorporate her female identity into her legal life.4 However, were this woman to leave Illinois and enter Tennessee, she would .5 become legally male once again. Though she may have breasts, a vagina, a husband, and an Illinois birth certificate stamped “female,” this person would always be considered legally male in Tennessee. Her sexual identity, her marriage, and her physical body become irrelevant. In Tennessee, a person identified as male at birth is male for life.

States traditionally determine their own marriage requirements and issue their own birth certificates.6 The resulting disparate treatment of transgender people across jurisdictions in the United States has created both practical and constitutional concerns7 that warrant the implementation of a uniform system for sex reassignment recognition nationally.8 Individuals are constantly being classified as either male or female, through mechanisms as diverse as employment records, birth records, driver’s¬†licenses, passports, restrooms, and interactions with law enforcement. Transgender people may present gender-signifying characteristics or documentation that are contrary or inconsistent, complicating these routine interactions.