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Oregon Appellate Court Requires that a Judge Give Specific Reasons Before Denying a Name or Gender Marker Change

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In 2017, the State of Oregon made it significantly easier for someone to change their name and gender marker by streamlining the process and providing statewide forms for use in every county. However, a judge may deny a change of name or gender marker if the change is not in the “public interest.” A judge in Marion County denied the change of an imprisoned woman’s name and gender marker, finding that it was “not in the public interest for [her] name and sex to be legally changed.” However, the court did not explain why it was not in the public interest seeming to rely only on the fact that she was in prison. The Oregon Court of Appeals found that the mere fact that a petitioner is incarcerated does not mean a change of name or gender marker is inconsistent with the public interest. Instead, the Court held that

[A] court may deny a petition for change of legal name or sex only where the record contains evidence that the change of legal name or sex is inconsistent with the “public interest”—that is, where the record contains evidence that change of legal name or sex is sought for some purpose harmful to the wellbeing of the general public, including, but not limited to, fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, evading creditors, or interfering with the rights of others.

Matter of Jondle, 317 Or. App. 303, 304 (2022). The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to make findings that the name/gender marker change was or was not in the public interest.

The State of Oregon’s forms for a name and gender marker change ask a petitioner to state whether they owe child support arrears; have a protective order, stalking order, or restraining order in effect against them; are currently on probation, parole, or under post-prison; or are required to register as a sex offender. However, answering yes to any of these questions does not mean the request to change one’s name or gender marker will be denied. These are only ways for the court to determine whether the public interest will be implicated. The Court of Appeals has now affirmed that someone cannot be denied outright without giving a reason why a denial is in the public’s interest. If you have concerns that you will be denied a name or gender marker change for one of these reasons, or another reason, you may want to enlist the help of an attorney with experience in name and gender marker changes.