The Maryland Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill allowing gender-neutral driver’s licenses, an option already available in five states and the District.
The legislation would give applicants the option to identify as male, female or unspecified. For applicants who request it, the Motor Vehicle Administration would be required to issue licenses or identification cards that show an “X” instead of an “M” for male or an “F” for female.
The vote — which did not include a roll call — came after some GOP lawmakers asked sharp questions about the legislation, including whether gender-neutral driver’s licenses would be “accurate” and how law enforcement agencies would interact with those who identify as “unspecified.”
“Are we going to call them X men?” said Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford). “My issue with this bill is with your driver’s license, that’s your identification. . . . When it comes to that information, I think it should be accurate.
“I understand you have people who have gone through changes, but they are either going one way or the other, they are not stuck in the middle,” Jennings said. “I just have concerns with it, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Gillian Branstetter, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Jennings should be “ashamed” of his “outrageous rhetoric.”
Such comments, she said, have kept “transgender people, including those with non-binary gender identities, on the sidelines of public life for far too long.”
Eleven countries and five states — including California, Colorado and Maine — offer gender-neutral options on identification cards, said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the bill.
The District, which issued its first gender-neutral ID in 2017, is believed to have been the first U.S. jurisdiction to do so.
Last week, several major airlines said they would allow passengers to identify as “unspecified” or “undisclosed” when they buy tickets.
If the Maryland Senate votes to give final approval to the legislation, which could happen by the end of the week, it would then head to the House of Delegates, where a similar bill stalled last year in committee.
Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), the only openly gay member of the Senate and a co-sponsor of the bill, told her colleagues that passage of the legislation would allow Marylanders with non-binary gender identities to “represent honestly.”
“If we don’t pass this bill, we are asking these individuals to misrepresent who they are,” she said. “We’re asking them to actually lie on an official government document.”
Smith told his colleagues that police and the state corrections agency have their own regulations on dealing with non-binary individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system.
“This is a relatively small change that we can make in our policy that will be reflected on the license,” Smith said. “It will make a segment of our population feel a little bit more included. It’s a small step . . . to make sure we are a more inclusive place for everyone.”
Sen. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Washington) said he appreciated the intent of the legislation, but “the question is where will this go next?”
Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), another co-sponsor, asked whether the MVA, the Department of Homeland Security or any other government agency had expressed concerns about the bill. Smith said there was no opposition from any government entity.
Separately on Wednesday, lawmakers in the House gave initial approval to a measure that would decriminalize attempted suicide. The bill, which has not yet been heard in the Senate, would repeal a Colonial-era relic of English common law that made suicide a prosecutable offense.
Mental health advocates say charging people who attempt suicide adds to their stigma and makes recovery more difficult. But critics of the bill say the threat of prosecution sometimes results in individuals agreeing to seek treatment.
Also in the House, lawmakers preliminarily approved a bill making undocumented immigrants in Maryland eligible for General Assembly college scholarships.
Lawmakers typically award these small-dollar grants to students living in their districts. But students in the country illegally — who already qualify for in-state tuition under state law — cannot apply.
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said the House of Delegates approved bills decriminalizing attempted suicide and allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for General Assembly scholarships. The bills received preliminary approval, but face another vote before final passage in the House.