The US passport, released on 20 July, also marks a new era for gay rights, following a landmark ruling in May by the country’s highest court that definitively recognised sexual orientation as a constitutionally protected personal identity. The new passport shows a “sex” marker for men, and “sex assigned at birth” for women.
In a one-sentence statement on its website, the US government said the new passport would take effect on 20 July. A federal judge in Washington has ordered that the passport be issued now, but the US government is appealing the decision.
The “sex assigned at birth” classification reflects a highly conservative and family-centered legal designation used by doctors and social workers until 1979. It is a shared category with the “M” and “F” category for sex assigned at birth.
The classification has come under attack from several states and a growing number of gay and transgender people who have long said it doesn’t accurately reflect their identity.
However, only a few states – including Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas – still use the standard that was in place when the census started asking about sex in 1948. These states and others allow same-sex couples to enter into a legal union where all parties agree on a person’s sex.
“While we are happy to see the US changing its passport policy to represent LGBTQ people fairly, the move fell far short of our long-term goal of full equality,” said Ty Cobb, a transgender rights activist with the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans.
“With a long history of discrimination and unjust laws, it is particularly disappointing that the US government hasn’t been able to come forward and provide LGBTQ people the true identity documents they have fought so hard for,” he said.
Under a longstanding policy, same-sex couples who wed in states with legalized same-sex marriage don’t have to fill out a form to apply for a passport, according to Paul Castillo, director of Equality Means Travel. Instead, each person fills out an application that also includes their current gender.
Castillo said US policy told his organization it would change to reflect people’s sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court ruled in May that the government must recognise the same-sex marriages of legally wed same-sex couples nationwide. That ruling overruled a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to married same-sex couples.