Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne and City Clerk Kimberly Wells officially removed the gender identification requirement from Somerville marriage certificates on Oct. 19. Rather than having to select either “male” or “female” on their marriage certificates, Somerville couples can now choose to leave this field blank.
“At its core, the purpose of the marriage license is to legally bind two individuals in love, regardless of their gender identity or expression,” Ballantyne wrote in an email to the Daily. “Somerville believes in celebrating love in all its forms, and this change reflects our unwavering dedication to creating a city where every resident is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Since marriage certificates are state documents, Somerville does not have the power to change the content of the forms themselves, which currently only list “male” or “female” as gender identifiers. However, the city can allow residents to not fill out certain portions of their certificates.
“For folks who are nonbinary … for folks who may be genderqueer or may have transitioned throughout their marriage or engagement … not forcing them to make one of these choices between what on a document is male or female is really important and allows everyone to show up as their fullest and most authentic selves,” Somerville City-Councilor-at-Large Willie Burnley Jr. said in an interview with the Daily.
Burnley expressed his hope that the state of Massachusetts will modify its marriage certificates to include more inclusive gender identification options.
“I think as this becomes more recognized as an expansion of inclusion, I’m hopeful that the state will take the step to say that no one has to fill that [box] out, or provide other options that people could choose on the form, such as nonbinary, genderqueer or something of that nature,” Burnley said.
Somerville is following in the footsteps of Boston, which made this modification back in August. The change to Somerville’s marriage certification process will affect already married couples as well as newly married ones, as any couple who wishes to remove their gender from their marriage certificate is now allowed one free, changed copy from the city clerk’s office.
“We're offering it for free because it’s the right thing to do,” Burnley said.
Hope Freeman, senior director of Tufts’ LGBT Center, stressed that the LGBTQ+ community continues to confront a host of issues beyond marriage equality.
“I can also understand the feeling of this initiative being ‘low hanging fruit’ as marriage equality is priority for some, but not all within the LGBTQIA+ community,” Freeman wrote in an email to the Daily.
Among other priorities for the LGBTQ+ community, Freeman noted high rates of homelessness, inequitable access to medical insurance, national anti-trans legislation and “Don’t Say Gay” laws in states like Florida.
However, Freeman stated that the implementation of gender-neutral marriage certificates is a step in the right direction for Somerville.
“There are small wins and big wins, but it’s most important that we move forward with the belief that change is happening,” she wrote.
As well as offering gender-neutral marriage certificates, Burnley noted that the city has also changed the role of LGBTQ+ Community Liaison from a part-time to a full-time position. The liaison works closely with Somerville’s LGBTQ+ community, helping to plan community events and corresponding with the mayor’s office. Going forward, Burnley shared his hope that the city will focus on strengthening rights for its transgender residents, especially by better supporting those who are thinking of name changes due to transitioning.
“That’s something that can be a barrier for folks, when they have to change documentation, when they have to navigate the system in a way that they never [have] had to before,” he said.
While Burnley does not know of any pending legislation regarding LGBTQ+ rights in Somerville, he emphasized that residents play an important role in bringing issues to the government table.
“I personally am always interested in figuring out how we can do things better and how we can become the most welcoming place we possibly can,” Bunley said. “So if folks have any ideas about how we can do that in terms of laws, I would love to hear them.”