Last edited: November 23, 2003

Court Gives Gay-Rights (TV/TS/TG Rights) Activists Hope

Orlando Sentinel, July 17, 2000
633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801
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By Iván Román, San Juan Bureau

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Alexandra Torres Andino, who became a woman 24 years ago, can now officially say she is one.

In a split decision made public last week, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court permitted Torres Andino to change her gender on her birth certificate to reflect the results of her 1976 sex-change operation. That move has gay-rights advocates cheering and conservative religious activists fuming.

The case was unprecedented in Puerto Rico, but changing the name and sex on birth certificates at the request of transsexuals has been done for years in many parts of the U.S. mainland. "We have to respond to the times and to the social realities of the day," said Ada Conde, president of the Human Rights Foundation, a local gay- and lesbian-rights group.

She calls it a welcome sign for gay-rights supporters that the island’s courts may now be more willing to tip the balance in favor of the individual’s right to privacy vs. the state’s need to intervene.

Gay-rights opponents called it a "disastrous" decision that could lead to fraud in public documents and get other parts of the gay-rights agenda in through the back door.

"It’s changing the facts, that he was born a man and still is one," said Carlos Sanchez, president of the conservative Pro-Life of Puerto Rico organization, an outspoken opponent of gay rights.

Reacting to the controversy, Justice Secretary Angel Rotger Sabat would say only that he will decide this week whether he is going to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider the 4-3 decision.

Andres Torres Andino, born in 1950, had the sex-change operation in 1976.. Almost 20 years later, in 1995, she went to court to have the name and gender changed on the birth certificate. The courts allowed her to change only the name.

After six years of appeals, the Supreme Court decided to permit Torres Andino, now married in New Jersey, to change the box indicating sex from "M" to "F." So far, she hasn’t reacted.

Calling transsexuality "an evident reality that demands a legal solution," the majority decision by Justice Antonio Negron Garcia states that forcing Torres Andino to offer intimate explanations about her appearance when presenting a birth certificate for job applications or passport renewals intrudes on the right to privacy.

The three dissident judges stated that a sex-change operation alters a man cosmetically but not genetically and that this could open the door to actions now prohibited in Puerto Rican law.

"This turns Andres Andino into a woman for all legal purposes, being able to get married as a woman, since the marriage certificate would establish that in an official manner," Justice Francisco Rebollo Lopez wrote.

Gay-rights advocates say the tough fight for gay marriage across the country proves one thing does not lead to the other. States that allow the change on birth certificates have passed referendums banning gay marriage.

"There are a lot of uninformed and unenlightened people on this issue, and a Supreme Court justice is not exempt," said Eric Ferrero, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

However, Ferrero acknowledged that this decision could help in an appeal of a separate case set to go before the Puerto Rico Supreme Court this week — to have the island’s sodomy laws declared unconstitutional. Lower courts here have upheld those laws, which now exist only in Puerto Rico and 18 states.

"A logical conclusion is that once you recognize the right to privacy and intimacy, the sodomy law topples on its own weight," Conde said.

That’s exactly what her opponents are afraid of.

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