Refusing to Let the Law Tell Lies

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Political Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on May 20, 2022.

There’s been much discussion in recent years about what it means to be “conservative.” The state of Oklahoma recently gave us an example of what it means to govern conservatively, and that begins by refusing to let the law tell lies.

The broader war on reality includes a specific battle over what it means to be male and female. Today, otherwise intelligent people argue with a straight face there are 68 different genders. This debate surfaced in Oklahoma last October when a legal settlement led to the creation of the state’s first birth certificate with a “nonbinary” gender marker.

Shortly after it happened, Gov. Kevin Stitt promised to take “whatever action necessary” to stop it from happening again. In April, he kept that promise when he signed legislation prohibiting the use of nonbinary gender markers on state birth certificates.

Oklahoma is the first state to pass legislation of this kind. It should be followed by others—and quickly.

For reasons that need not be explained, birth certificates have historically included only two options: male or female. Today, however, more than 20 states have made it possible to include a nonbinary marker, often indicated by an “X.”

The federal government recently became involved in the movement as well. The Biden administration announced that airport security would allow travelers to choose their gender as “X” and that U.S. citizens could select whatever gender they wanted, or no gender at all, on their passports without providing any support for the designation.

Part of the problem with allowing self-identification on official documents is practical. The entire purpose of personal identification is to—wait for it—make it easier to identify people. When authorities need to quickly locate a white male with a medium build who is approximately 6 feet tall, that job becomes much more difficult if anyone can claim to be a man or that man can get through security and board an airplane with identification that says he is a woman.

We risk creating a situation where identification documents have no identification value but instead exist exclusively as emotional support papers.

In addition, if we are going to fully embrace the idea that government documents exist to help people “live authentically,” why would we stop at gender? Surely it’s possible to feel like a citizen of a different country. Almost no one identifies with their actual weight. One Norwegian man went to court to have his age lowered by 20 years on his official documents not only because it would more accurately represent how he felt but also because it would make him more attractive to prospective dates on dating apps.

It quickly becomes clear that these changes do not simply change the information on the document, they change the purpose of the document. We risk creating a situation where identification documents have no identification value but instead exist exclusively as emotional support papers. It would be preferable to remove gender entirely than to falsify it with the approval of governmental authorities.

To their credit, the good people of Oklahoma are not having it. They understand human flourishing is impossible if we are allowed to lie with impunity to pretend we are masters of our own fate. Many things were determined for us at birth. We will never have control over who our parents are, the health risks associated with our DNA, or the country or century we were born into. Nor do we have control over our sex.

If being conservative means anything, it means conserving the ideas and institutions that lead to human flourishing. People cannot flourish without a family, the family cannot flourish without strong marriages, and marriage cannot flourish if we do not have a clear respect and appreciation for what it means to be male and female. Neither can a civilization thrive when its laws tell a fictional tale about human nature.

Oklahoma state Rep. Sheila Dills, the House sponsor of the birth certificate bill signed into law by Gov. Stitt, said in a statement, “People are free to believe whatever they want about their identity, but science has determined that people are either biologically male or female.”

This is about science, but it is also about much more than that. Thank God for the conservatives in Oklahoma who understand this and are working to conserve the things that matter most.