Georgia AG chooses not to be involved in name-change cases

A panel of three judges from the Georgia Court of Appeals will be deciding whether or not transgender Georgians have the legal right to change their names.

Two cases from Columbia County Superior Court are before the appellate court after Judge J. David Roper denied two transgender men’s request to change their names to match the gender with which they identify.

The Georgia Attorney General's Office has chosen not to be involved in the cases...and has chosen not to make any comment. Thus there can be no appellant to the Georgia Supreme Court if the appellate judges decide in favor of the transgender men.

The cases of Rebeccah Elizabeth Feldhaus and Delphine Renee Baumert where assigned to the same panel for the sake of consistency.

Roper denied Feldhaus' request to change his name to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus in March, announcing that he would have "approved a name he could live with...like Morgan, Shannon, Shaun and Jamie." That is, he would have approved a gender-neutral name. But Elijah was too Biblical.

He is sexist and he's obviously transphobic or he doesn't want to help alleviate any of the dangers that are in the trans community just by giving us the name that we identify with.

--Feldhaus

In Georgia, courts must find good and sufficient reasons for any name change and also find it consistent with the public interest.

But the court can deny any request to keep folks from evading creditors or escaping criminal punishment.

The name also can't be seen as offensive, obscene or confusing to the general public. That is where Judge Roper's denial is based.

But Feldhaus says a potential bias shouldn't keep anyone from being themselves.

"If you're conflicting with what your job is wanting you to do, then you need to get out of that position. You can't affect a business like that.

--Feldhaus

Baumert's petition to have his name changed to Andrew Baumert was similarly denied by Roper.

Lambda Legal is representing both plaintiffs.

Lambda Legal argues the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Andrew Baumert’s name change even though he met all the necessary criteria because the decision was arbitrary and based on insufficient reasons. The brief also argues that the court’s denial was unlawful discrimination based on sex and a violation of Andrew’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

It was humiliating and insulting to be told by the court that I would not be able to change my name legally when I’m already known as Andrew by my family, my friends, and my community. I work in labs all day, but it doesn’t take a scientist to know that this judge’s ruling was based on sexist opinions about ‘appropriate’ names. It’s hurtful to think about how many people were targets of the judge’s policy, like Rowan and me, simply because we are transgender. I just want my name to reflect who I am.

In both cases, Roper noted that the state law governing name changes does not address the transgender issue and there are no appellate decisions for guidance. The decision to grant or refuse a name change is to be decided by a judge’s sound legal discretion, Roper wrote.

Allowing a transgender name change could confuse and mislead the public in situations where an individual’s sex is relevant, Roper wrote. Use of restrooms also is a concern, especially where children use facilities unsupervised, he wrote.

Judge Roper is expected to retire early next year.

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