Oklahoma court: Judge can’t refuse name change petition on grounds that the name doesn’t fit the applicant’s perceived sex

The decision came in Friday’s In re Ingram (Okla. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2014), but the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals had already held something similar in In re Harvey (Okla. Ct. Civ. App. 2012), a decision that came after the lower court decision in this case (some paragraph breaks added):

Title 12, § 1634 provides:

The material allegations of the petition shall be sustained by sworn evidence, and the prayer of the petition shall be granted unless the court or judge finds that the change is sought for an illegal or fraudulent purpose, or that a material allegation in the petition is false.

… The law does not require males be given traditionally male names, or females traditionally female names, by their parents at birth. Additionally, there are numerous gender-androgynous names.

The relevant issue in a name change proceeding is not whether the applicant’s DNA corresponds with the traditionally male or female name preferred by the applicant. The statute does not change the sex of the applicant, only the applicant’s name.

The trial court’s denial was not based on a finding that a material allegation in the petition was false. Therefore, the relevant issue is whether the applicant is seeking a name change for an illegal or fraudulent purpose. We hold that the trial court abused its discretion by overruling Harvey’s Motion for New Trial and denying his application for a change of name. The trial court’s finding that Harvey sought a name change for an illegal or fraudulent purpose is not supported by the evidence.

Because we hold the trial court abused its discretion by failing to apply the standard set forth in 12 O.S. § 1634, we will not address Harvey’s constitutional arguments. The trial court’s judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded with directions to enter judgment granting Harvey’s change of name.

Ingram’s case was basically the same as Harvey’s. Here, by the way, is an account from The Oklahoman about the trial judge’s reasoning:

“A so-called sex-change surgery can make one appear to be the opposite sex, but in fact they are nothing more than an imitation of the opposite sex,” the judge wrote in a seven-page order [in 2011].

“Here, petitioner has not even had the surgery by which his sex purports to be changed. Thus, based on the foregoing and the DNA evidence, a sex change cannot make a man a woman or a woman a man all of which, the Court finds is sufficient in and of itself to deny petitioner’s request for a name change,” Graves wrote.

“To grant a name change in this case would be to assist that which is fraudulent,” Graves wrote. “It is notable that Genesis 1:27-28 states: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth …’ The DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female.”

The judge also wrote about not wanting to be “complicit in legitimizing sex changes through changes of names.”

Well, that’s the trouble with being a judge — you have to be complicit in what the law provides, regardless of your interpretations of Genesis. And, as the Oklahoma appellate courts have made clear, Oklahoma name change law allows men to change their names to traditionally female names (and women to traditionally male names), without regard to their chromosomes.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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Eugene Volokh | March 24