Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sex in the Courtroom

Guest post by Tim FallAlso check out Monday's post on transgenderism and the church.

The young man - well, legally a man but not for much longer - stood in front of me, separated by the space between the courtroom table and the judge's bench where I sat in my black robe. He wasn't asking for much - just that the law would recognize him for who he had discovered himself to be. It was a short yet life-changing court case, but more on this later.

Sex and Gender

Gender, sex, sexuality, chromosomes, identity - how you choose to categorize issues will determine how you treat the people those issues affect.

Imagine for a moment that you are:

  • A scientist studying aspects of DNA that concern the sex organs and related brain function.
  • A sociologist researching the effect of sexual identity on early childhood education.
  • A school board member considering a vote to add bathrooms to accommodate students who don't fit within society's defined sexual norms.
  • A physician with one more teenager crying on your examination table because they're afraid to tell their parents what they've just revealed to you.

Answers to these problems are not as simple as determining whether a person's chromosomes are XX or XY. It never has been. For one thing, not everyone is born with either XX or XY chromosomes, and for another even if you are there is no guarantee of developing physically into what society considers the biological norm for a female or male human. (Intersex.)

Also, while many people use the words "gender" and "sex" interchangeably, they are not identical:

Sex = male and female
Gender = masculine and feminine

Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.
Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.


In sociological terms 'gender role' refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes.

Earlier I asked you to imagine yourself facing various circumstances concerning a person's sex. Now imagine that you are a Christian facing those situations. Think the answer is simple?

I do too, but not for the reasons you might expect.

How Not To Respond To Sex and Gender Issues

First I'd like to offer Douglas Wilson's take on these issues as a model of how Christians should not respond:

Mount Holyoke College is an all-women’s college that recently began admitting male students who self-identify as female. And then, in a spasm of self-righteousness, there was a successful student-led effort to get a college performance of The Vagina Monologues cancelled because that play was insufficiently sensitive to those women who were vagina-less.


When do we say, and on what authority, that we don’t care about your stupid self-identifications? If a man with a penis can get sympathy on a modern college campus because his womanhood has been insulted, ... then what isn’t possible? 

(Douglas Wilson, Feminist Rape Constructs)

What concerns me about Mr. Wilson's take on this is that he does not deal with the fact that some people do not biologically fit into his mode of identification. I am even more concerned with his mode of expression. In his post he claims merely to have used a "satiric voice," but in doing so he dismisses those he disagrees with.

That is no way for a pastor - or any Christian for that matter - to behave.

Judging Sex and Gender

Back to the young man in my courtroom.

Several times a month I will hear name change requests. Perhaps the person wants to remove the name of an abusive parent, or they want to honor their heritage, or they just like another name better. As long as the name change is not for an improper purpose, I grant the request.

The young man recently in my courtroom, though, filed for more than a name change. He filed for a "change of gender", which is actually an official decree that a person's sex is no longer male but female, or vice versa.

How is a judge who is a Christian supposed to handle a request from someone seeking to change their legal identity from male to female?

The same way we handle anything else in the courtroom. By being fair and respectful to everyone who comes before us.

So I called the case by using the young man's original name, addressing him as Mr. _____. He came forward, smiling but (like almost everyone who's never been in court) a little unsure of what to do. I pointed out where he should stand at counsel table and asked him to wait a moment while I looked through the file. I'd reviewed it earlier, but I always double check to make sure the papers are in order.

He listed his current name and the name he wanted to change to, and he checked the box showing the request to change from male to female. Attached to the petition was the required doctor's statement affirming that changing the sexual designation was medically appropriate.

Everything was there so I granted the petition, which includes an order that the government issue a new birth certificate reflecting the new name and sex.

And since this was official, my next statement to the petitioner was, "Ms. _____, you need to take the order I've just signed to the clerk's office. They'll give you a copy with the court stamp on it for you to keep."

"Thanks," she said with that same smile as she gathered her paperwork and left the courtroom.

Where I Stand as a Christian

A lot of people assume that because I'm a Christian I must have a stand on various issues. What that stand is might surprise some people.

But I don't express that stance publicly on every issue. For one thing, as a judge I am not allowed to make public statements that could cause someone to question whether I can be fair in a given type of case.

For another, consider one of the most famous courtroom scenes in the Bible, when Solomon was called on to judge which woman was the mother of a tiny baby. (1 Kings 3.) The Bible tells us both these women were prostitutes, yet they came to the king for justice just the same.

In the entire passage there is one glaring omission for those who think that God's chosen leaders are to uphold morality at every opportunity.

Solomon never once mentioned their profession as prostitutes, never criticized them for it or admonished them to change, never considered it as a factor in making the right decision.
Instead he showed them respect, treated them fairly and ruled justly.

So if you want to know how I, as a Christian judge, try to handle these things, that's it.


Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 27 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.