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Gender X supporters press for vote in House

Next year, Ryley Copans plans to get married.

But Copans, 25, has a lingering worry that the state marriage license documenting the partnership won’t accurately reflect their identity.

“Being nonbinary is a real and valid gender identity,” Copans told a panel of state legislators on Tuesday. “We want to be recognized as we are.”

Copans and other supporters of legislation to make a gender-neutral designation available on state identifying documents like driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and marriage licenses testified before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

The hearing in the Gardner Auditorium drew an overwhelmingly supportive audience, including many individuals who identified themselves as nonbinary and explained to legislators how a new law would impact their lives.

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Some said the legislation would make them feel safer, while others explained how it would make it easier for them to obtain relevant health care.

A bill to make a “gender X” designation available as a third option on driver’s licenses and birth certificates passed the Senate almost unanimously in April, and advocates are pushing for a vote in the House as they seek to move their legislation to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.

A similar bill passed the Senate last session, but stalled in the House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 127-32 this session.

Copans told the committee that lawmakers should not take as long to pass the bill as they did to approve a ban on conversion therapy for minors, which became law this year after many years of failed attempts.

The bill that passed the Senate this past spring would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to make a third, gender-neutral option available to applicants for a license or learner’s permit and would allow anyone over 18, an emancipated minor, or the parents of a minor to request a change in the sex listed on someone’s birth certificate to male, female, or X.

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The birth certificate component was added to the bill this year.

“No public policy good is achieved by forcing someone to lie about their gender identity. But much good does come from permitting the designation of gender X,” said Arline Isaacson, who cochairs the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has already said that it has been working to prepare software capable of offering a third “gender X” option on ID cards, and the administration has simply been watching to see what the Legislature does before making the switch.

Critics of the legislation, including former House lawmaker and Massachusetts GOP chairman Jim Lyons, have raised concerns regarding public safety and confusion for law enforcement, while Massachusetts Family Institute executive director Andrew Beckwith said a driver’s license should reflect a person’s sex, not gender.

“The concept of ‘gender identity’ is based on internal feelings, but sex is binary [male or female] and grounded in biology, and we believe that a state ID should continue to reflect the objective fact of sex, not gender,” Beckwith said.

Many testifying Tuesday, however, noted that Massachusetts would not be at the vanguard of the movement toward gender-neutral documentation.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia already allow a third, gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses.

“As a leader historically, I think it’s time for Massachusetts to join the pack,” said Jordan Meehan, policy coordinator for the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth.

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While the Transportation Committee initially heard the Senator Jo Comerford bill that passed the Senate, the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee has control over a separate bill filed by Representative Mindy Domb, of Amherst, and Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge.

Testifying together with a handful of their colleagues behind them, Domb and Decker told the committee that their bill represented a natural progression from the ballot law approved by voters protecting access to public accommodations for transgender individuals.

“When we take away the opportunity to be our authentic selves, we take away our humanity,” Domb said.

The freshman House Democrat also said that forcing people to choose between two gender options that don’t reflect who they are “sanctions dishonesty, promotes stigma, and keeps our neighbors invisible.”

The committee had few questions for supporters, but chairwoman Danielle Gregoire, of Marlborough, did ask about a cost estimate. Domb and Decker said there wasn’t one.

Representative Maria Robinson also suggested that lawmakers negotiating a ban on handheld cellphone use while driving consider making sure that data collection recommended in that legislation to prevent racial profiling also look at all gender representations.

Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, who supports the Domb-Decker bill, recommended a companion bill that she filed that would require all state agencies to update their forms to remove gender-specific designations like husband and wife and become more inclusive.