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Arizona judge ordered to approve name change for gender transition

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Superior Court)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Court of Appeals has ordered a Yuma County judge who denied a name change to a person transitioning to another gender to grant the request.

The sharply worded decision issued Tuesday said Judge Lawrence C. Kenworthy acted outside the law by refusing to grant the change.

Sebastian Tomas Valentine is a transgender person who sought the name change to reflect his gender identity. Valentine wrote on a court form, “I am transitioning and want my documents to match my identity.”

Kenworthy rejected the request on Feb. 26, just six days after the request was filed, for failure to show good cause. He did not hold a hearing.

The appeals court said state law allows anyone to petition a court for a name change if they swear they are doing it solely for their own benefit, understand the change won’t release them from legal obligations, aren’t a convicted felon or facing charges and aren’t doing so to facilitate a crime.

“The statute does not permit the superior court to deny a person’s name-change request only because the person wants the new name to reflect a gender transition.” Appeals Court Judge David D. Weinzweig wrote in the unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel.

Valentine reached out to the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, which joined with the ACLU of Arizona in pursuing the appeal.

Abby Jensen, legal director at the alliance, said Kenworthy had previously denied two other name changes by transgender Yuma-area residents. One was eventually granted and another is being refiled.

Jensen said Wednesday that the issue is rare, with courts in other Arizona counties routinely granting name changes for transgender people.

“I do not think it’s a systemic problem,” she said. “This is the first judge in Arizona I know of who has resisted the name change request by transgender people specifically.”

Kenworthy declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Jensen said judges “should not be acting as gatekeepers regarding the legitimacy of a person’s name change request.””

“And that’s true for everyone, not just trans people,” she said. “”Whether or not the judge likes the person’s choice of name or why they’re doing it is irrelevant.”

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