In handing Kimberly Rhoten a copy of their marriage certificate Tuesday, Boston Registrar Paul Chong made history.
For the first time, the city’s marriage documentation bore no marker of the couple’s sex or gender. It’s a small change, but one that LGBTQ+ advocates say will help ensure equality among Boston residents with historically marginalized gender and sexual identities.
“I have eagerly awaited a transformative future when my identity and the identities of my community would be recognized and respected by the institutions that govern us,” said Rhoten, who identifies as nonbinary and serves as director of policy and strategic initiatives for the city’s Office of Returning Citizens.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, they reflected on the significance of the change, which came a few months after their June 10 wedding.
“For many, … a marriage certificate is a symbol of love and commitment,” Rhoten said. “But unfortunately for people like me, the certificates’ outdated and narrow gender markers were a glaring reminder that our city still had a long way to go to acknowledging our existence. They were a subtle yet powerful message that our love, our relationships, and our identities were somehow less valid and less recognized under the eyes of the law and the City of Boston.”
The change will help alleviate gender dysphoria for many in the community, according to Rhoten. By removing the gender markers, Boston now spares its residents from having to pick from a list of limited, narrow, and delineated options, they explained.
“And for those of us who change and grow, later identifying with a different gender than when we first got married, our marriage certificates no longer constrain us and can now reflect the love we hold without disrespecting who we’ve grown into and our new pronouns,” Rhoten said.
The marriage certificate change comes as the city launches new gender-aware guidelines and standards for municipal services, intended to improve the way city officials ask people about their gender identity.
“Right now, we ask residents about gender identity to deliver key services,” the city’s website notes. “But when we ask, we often aren’t using language that represents all gender identities and may not even need gender identity to deliver some of these services.”
According to Julia Gutiérrez, the city’s chief digital officer, the guidelines can be broken down into two parts: When to ask about gender identity, pronouns, and chosen names, and how to go about asking. She said city officials expect the policies to evolve over time.
As a result of the new standards, Boston’s registry will no longer require couples to disclose their sex or gender, Chong said.
“Your love makes the world a better place,” he told Rhoten as he presented them with their marriage certificate. “It makes this city a better place.”
The policy changes are especially meaningful in light of intensifying attacks on the LGBTQ+ community nationwide, according to Rhoten.
“This is not just a win for the queer community — it’s a win for everyone who believes in the principles of fairness, equality, and equal access to our city’s services,” they said. “It’s a win for Boston.”
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