Our Opinion: 'X' on state documents translates into a proud day

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On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate took a vote that, when taken in the context of social mores, represents a tectonic shift in the way Bay Staters and Americans as a whole view the topic of gender and human sexuality. On the surface, it would appear to be a minor act: allowing residents to make a gender-neutral designation on their driver's licenses and birth certificates as an alternative to the standard "M" and "F."

The vote was practically unanimous; the lone "no" came from a Westfield Republican who kept his reasons to himself. At a time when less progressive states have been considering and passing "bathroom bills" to protect their womenfolk against the unlikely chance of being assaulted in public restrooms by predators disguised as self-identifying females, Massachusetts is on the verge of joining several other states in acknowledging that society and permissiveness have moved past the old, binary standards.

Among those who hew to traditional concepts about the meaning of and distinction between genders, it seems perfectly natural that an individual's gender would be tied to their physical characteristics. However, there are cultures where gender is considered a state of mind and multiple designations for different genders exist in their language and world view. The most important point, and one that the Massachusetts Senate has addressed with its historic vote, is that it is not up to society to determine what an individual's gender may be. As Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, put it simply and eloquently, "People know what gender they are. This bill allows us to have their state documents match how they self-identify." Her remark dramatically illustrates that government must acknowledge its limits; throughout history, governments have dictated how their people can pray, how they are allowed to dress and whom they are allowed to marry. It is not the commonwealth's business to tell a person that they must conform to obsolete conventions.

It is hard to believe that as recently as 15 years ago, Republican legislatures around the country sought to help then-President George W. Bush's re-election campaign by including "Defense of Marriage Acts" on the 2004 ballot in hopes of enticing more social conservatives to go to the polls. Compared to the normally glacial pace of social change, American attitudes about gender identity have progressed in a way that has amazed even militant activists. In the current political cycle, an openly gay candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., has managed through his own candor about his sexuality and by the force of his intellect to prompt many in the body politic to discount his orientation as irrelevant to his ability to perform his duties as president.

Now it is up to the state House to step up and do its part, and Gov. Baker to sign the bill into law. That will be a proud day for all Bay Staters, regardless of their orientation.

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