OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials vowed to tighten Oklahoma’s gender-identity laws this week after the Oklahoma Department of Health issued what is believed to be the state’s first nonbinary birth certificate following a voluntary court settlement with an Oregon resident.

The Attorney General’s Office, which represented the Department of Health in state and federal litigation, agreed to a settlement in May requiring the state to offer a third option on its birth certificates. News of that agreement, though, wasn’t publicized until recently, when LGBTQ+ supporters heralded the issuance of Oklahoma’s first nonbinary birth certificate to Oregon resident Kit Vivien Lorelied.

News of that decision generated outrage from top Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Kevin Stitt, who on Thursday issued a statement saying “people are created by God to be male or female. Period. There is no such thing as nonbinary sex, and I wholeheartedly condemn the purported OSDH court settlement that was entered into by rogue activists who acted without receiving proper approval or oversight. I will be taking whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life.”

Stitt did not identify those he accused of being “rogue activists.”

Lorelied, who was born in Oklahoma and uses they/them pronouns, had sued several state department of health employees, claiming their constitutional rights were violated when health officials refused to issue a new nonbinary birth certificate despite a previous Oregon court order to do so. Oklahoma state officials initially said they couldn’t issue a nonbinary option because the state’s birth certificate only allowed “male” or “female,” according to court filings.

Lorelied was assigned female at birth, but said they identified as nonbinary as an adult.

The lawsuit noted that while "a majority of individuals possess a binary gender identity that matches their genetic sex assigned at birth... that is not the case for nonbinary people, who may identify as having two or more genders, no gender, moving between genders or falling within an alternate gender category."

As a result of a settlement, Oklahoma is now one of fewer than 15 states offering a nonbinary gender option on its birth certificates, said Christopher Brecht, the lead attorney representing Lorelied. Brecht, an attorney with the Tulsa law firm McDaniel Acord, said he was surprised, but pleased, that the state agreed to settle the matter quickly.

He’s already heard from five other people looking to switch their gender identification to “nonbinary.”

He also said the backlash “is ridiculous,” but not surprising because the LGBTQ+ community has been continually targeted by “bigoted legislation.”

“It’s just disappointing quite frankly,” Brecht said. “I don’t understand their motives. I just don’t understand why people oppose things like that because, quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter to them. They’ve always had those (birth) records that accurately reflect who they are.”

He also said if elected officials want to try to challenge or undo the settlement, “I guess they can see my client in court.”

In a statement, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said an executive branch agency “acted outside its scope or authority,” and Stitt should correct it immediately through executive order.

“Unelected employees in the executive branch of government have no authority to make decisions of this magnitude,” McCall said. “The vast majority of elected House members expect the governor, as the elected leader of the executive branch, to immediately take executive action to follow through on his pledge to undo this.”

He also said in a later statement that the agreement was "invalid and unenforceable" because state law requires settlements that substantially impact agency operations or programs be reviewed by top House, Senate and gubernatorial leaders prior to being finalized.

Former Attorney General Mike Hunter, a Republican, was in office when the settlement was reached. Though he resigned effective June 1, court records show the settlement continued to proceed uninterrupted in the months following. Attorney General John O’Connor, a Republican appointed to the post by Stitt in July, did not immediately respond to a request or comment.

Dr. Lance Frye, state commissioner of health, said in a statement that his agency will work with Stitt and O'Connor's office for input and counsel on the next steps.

"Our responsibility is to maintain vital statistics, and we will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of Oklahoma," Frye said. "Should a challenge to the previous agreement be made, we will proceed accordingly."

Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said the authority to institute policy changes “of this magnitude” belongs within the legislative branch.

“Executive branch agencies should not attempt to legislate or make substantive policy changes like this through rulemaking or court settlement,” he said. “This is an egregious example of executive overreach that should be corrected as soon as possible.”

State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, said Wednesday that he had filed a bill specifying “male” and “female” would be the only options on birth certificates. He said state health officials a couple of months ago assured him that they had no intention of adding another option to birth certificates, but then did so anyway.

“We’re at an odd time in history where people are seemingly forgetting science and biology and casting common sense out the window,” Bergstrom said. “When babies are born, they are either born male or female based on their chromosomes and genitals. Allowing anything else to be listed on a birth certificate is ludicrous, and it’s time we clarify this in our statutes.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you