The Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency should accept a human-rights adjudicator’s advice and provide gender-neutral birth certificates to people who want one. Saskatchewan and Ontario already provide this option — with no evident harm so far.
Manitoba birth certificates currently say the bearer is male or female, according to the sex assigned at birth and recorded in the province’s vital records. This has long been found a useful way, along with date of birth and mother’s name, of ensuring one person cannot claim the identity of another.
It’s now recognized, however, that sex and gender are not the indelible markers that were previously presumed. Some people who look like males feel themselves to be female, and vice versa. Some feel somewhere in-between or at a different place altogether on the spectrum. Some undergo a physical change of sex. The temper of these times encourages such people to speak up more than earlier generations.
It all makes the traditional birth-certificate identifier of only M or F seem restrictive to the point of inaccuracy in a small number of cases, and there is no need for Manitoba to require these people to accept one attribution or the other.
The Ontario solution is to mark an X on the birth certificate of someone who doesn’t want either an M or an F. The Saskatchewan solution is to provide no information about sex in such cases. The Manitoba government should ask around to find out which solution is better.
The person asking for a gender-neutral birth certificate takes a small risk that some other authority may say it isn’t enough to establish their identity. In societies hostile to non-binary people, a gender-neutral birth certificate might even trigger nasty reactions. Those risks, however, are beyond Manitoba’s control.
Vital records help the authorities to calculate birth rates, life expectancy and the evolving needs of the population. They also help set limits to identity theft. Manitoba’s vital records will still serve those functions, even if a few gender-neutral birth certificates are issued to people who want them.
Birth certificates may be a matter of human rights and discrimination, as Human Rights Commission adjudicator Dan Manning found in the case brought by T.A., a pangender applicant who wanted a birth certificate with no male or female label.
It is at least a matter of common sense: if a Manitoba-born person wants a certificate showing they were born here but saying nothing about their sex, Manitoba should not refuse to provide it.
While this question is being studied, it may be worth asking how useful it is to specify sex on any Manitoba birth certificate. A gender-neutral certificate will implicitly label the holder as a non-binary person, perhaps exposed to hostility and discrimination. The simplest solution may be to leave the sex labels off all birth certificates.
Before taking that additional step, Manitoba should investigate whether any aspect of officialdom is still relying on the M and F entries on birth certificates to decide if people really are who they say they are. In the age of genomics and biometric identification, it seems unlikely sex will continue much longer as a leading marker of identity. But we should take this one step at a time.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.