Two transgender Columbia County residents whose requests to change their names to conform with their chosen sexual identities have won their appeals and will get new names.
In an opinion released Friday, the Court of Appeals of Georgia ruled against Superior Court Judge J. David Roper in the 2015 and 2016 civil name-change petitions. The appellate court agreed with two transgender men that Roper had abused his discretion when he denied their petitions. The cases will be returned to Columbia County Superior Court with directions to grant the name changes.
Because there was no opposition to the appeals filed, there cannot be any further appeal in the case, Augusta area attorney Robert “Bo” Hunter told The Augusta Chronicle last fall. He represented Rebecca Elizabeth Feldhaus in a 2015 petition to change his names to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus.
In Feldhaus’ case, and in the 2016 petition bought by Delphine Renee Baumert to change his names to Andrew Norman Baumert, there was no opposition to it in Columbia County Superior Court, nor was there any evidence that either sought the change for fraudulent or other improper purposes, the Court of Appeal opinion states.
But Roper found that a transgender person presents problems for that person and the general public when the assume name could “confuse and mislead … emergency personnel, actuaries, insurance underwriters, and other businesses and relationships where the sex of an individual is relevant.” Further, Roper found, a name change that allows a person to assume the role of a person of the opposite sex is committing a type of fraud on the public and offending the sensibilities and mores of “a substantial portion of the citizens of this state.”
The appellate court noted that the Supreme Court of Georgia has long ruled that nothing in the law prohibits a person from taking another name as long as he does not to defraud others through a mistake of identity.
The court referenced another name-change appeal decided in 1979. In it, a divorced woman sought to change her name back to her maiden name. The trial court denied her petition, finding that her child would be confused and embarrassed to have a mother with a different last name. That, the Court of Appeals judges found, was not a valid basis for denying a petition for a name change.
The Court of Appeals has only affirmed a denial of a name-change petition when there was evidence of improper motive, such as intentionally assuming another person’s name to embarrass that person, or in an attempt to avoid a criminal history, according to the court opinion.
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