Building on Mayor Wu’s vision of an inclusive City that serves all residents, the City of Boston today announced that it has updated its marriage licenses by no longer requiring sex or gender identification on the licenses. This change is the first the City has made based on new gender-aware guidelines for City resources and the collection of gender-identity data throughout government processes. These guidelines will support City staff who design and operate services, programs, and policies in the City of Boston and are intended to provide more dignified experiences for all residents, including those whose gender and sexual identities have historically not been recognized or supported by government agencies. This effort was led by the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement, and the City’s Registry Department. Boston residents who wish to have an updated marriage license issued without sex or gender identification can contact the City Registry for a new copy.
“Our fundamental charge in public service is ensuring that our services and opportunities reach everyone, and that starts with affirming and supporting constituents of all identities,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Boston must continue to work to dismantle the historic inequities and injustices that persist. This update to Boston marriage licenses is a huge step in building a City that is truly inclusive, and I’m excited to see how these critical changes for accessibility at City Hall serve Bostonians.”
Data can be a powerful tool to understand disparities and to drive equitable outcomes. However, embedding the collection of data into government programs can often have negative consequences for the people those services and programs were intended to help in the first place. The consequences can be magnified when data collection is mandatory or tied to other personally identifying information. As these are complex issues that involve trade-offs, the City expects these standards and guidelines to evolve.
Collecting the right amount of data in the right way will ensure that the City delivers services equitably and effectively to people of all gender identities while protecting privacy and safety to the best of its ability. Building on the Gender Inclusion ordinance filed by then-Councilor Wu and Councilor Liz Breadon and the amendment to the ordinance filed by Councilor Gabriela Coletta and feedback received regarding various constituent experiences, the City has created this new set of standards and guidelines that will support City workers in determining when and how they should collect gender identity information. To achieve this purpose, these guidelines and standards have four goals:
1. Define key terms City staff should understand related to gender identity
2. Help City departments determine when it is necessary and appropriate to ask constituents about their gender identity
3. Provide standard language that City departments should use when they have determined they need to ask constituents about their gender identity
4. Align the standards in the guidelines with state, federal, or other data systems that have limitations in how they record this data
“We’re committed to ensuring that all City employees and departments get the proper support to embed gender inclusive language and practices into the way they engage with residents and ask for personal information,” said Julia Gutierrez, Chief Digital Officer. “Just as the language for talking about gender is dynamic and changes over time, we expect to regularly review and continuously improve these standards and guidelines in response to the feedback we receive.”
The LGBTQ+ community across the country continues to face marginalization, discrimination, and violence – particularly Black and Brown trans and gender non-conforming community members. A person’s gender and sexual identity can be tremendously important to their overall identity. These guidelines and standards seek to balance the right to be affirmed against risks and constraints. Government agencies create harm by not allowing people to affirm their identities, especially if information is collected that misrepresents who they are. At the same time, collecting information increases risks for vulnerable groups and creates barriers to participation.
“Good government is responsive to an evolving world where everyone has access to city services in a way that feels equitable, safe and inclusive” said Mariangely Solis Cervera, Chief of Equity and Inclusion. “Massachusetts was the first state to legally recognize marriage equality, but we know that the work of creating a more just world is ongoing. I am proud to be part of the City of Boston’s trajectory as a continued leader in equity, inclusion, and justice.”
“The City is proud to implement these new important standards,” said Paul Chong, City Registrar. “We believe that all constituents should have equitable access to City services.”
This announcement builds on Mayor Wu’s work to ensure that Boston is an inclusive and equitable city for residents of all gender identities. In 2020, the Boston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance authored by then-City Councilor Wu and Councilor Liz Breadon to ensure gender inclusivity on all City-issued forms, documents, and certificates. In March 2022, Mayor Wu announced the creation of the Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement.