Shawn Gebhardt

Full Faith and Credit for Status Records: A Reconsideration of Gardiner

The piece examines the level of faith and credit for executive documents (such as birth certificates) required by the Full Faith and Credit Clause. While the Supreme Court has fairly clearly explained “how much” faith and credit states must give to the judgments and statutes of their sister states, it has never clearly explained how much faith and credit states must give to the executive documents of their sister states. The author argues that some executive documents, particularly those that establish issues of status or identity, deserve a high level of faith and credit akin to that enjoyed by judgments. The piece uses a Kansas Supreme Court case, In the Matter of the Estate of Gardiner, to illustrate the unconstitutionality of a state court’s refusal to extend faith and credit to a sister state’s executive document. In Gardiner, J’Noel Gardiner, a transsexual person, underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman. In her home state of Wisconsin, she received an amended birth certificate reflecting her new sex. She later married a biological male in Kansas, but the Kansas courts, considering itself unbound by the Wisconsin birth certificate, invalidated the marriage after determining that as a matter of Kansas law, J’Noel remained male.