September Column Winner

Judging people a Graves error

TED STREULI, The Journal Record

You are going to read a lot about Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves.
The 74-year-old Graves, described recently by the Tulsa World as "a lightly regarded member of the Oklahoma Legislature for 24 years ... known mostly as an opponent of same-sex marriage," abandoned a run for a congressional seat, then was elected to the district bench, where he has been responsible for judging cases since 2006.
Graves is in the news because he has refused to grant name changes to two transgendered men. In the first case, 62-year-old Steven Charles Harvey last year asked the court to change his name to Christie Ann Harvey. Graves refused, as he did Aug. 30 in the case of 29-year-old James Dean Ingram, who wishes to be known as Angela Renee Ingram.
In each case, Graves cites the statute that says a judge is not required to grant a name change if it is sought for fraudulent purposes or to avoid creditors. Graves contends that a person with an X and Y chromosome who has undergone a sex-change operation is fraudulently holding himself out as a female and that the court would be complicit in the deception by granting a new, feminine name.
To shore up his argument, Graves had state Rep. Michael Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, an osteopath and Southern Baptist deacon, serve as an expert witness. Ritze testified that sex-change surgery does not alter DNA, therefore, a sex change is merely a cosmetic. Or, as Graves put it to Ingram, "You can't change what God gave you."
There are more holes in Graves' argument than a miniature golf course.
In the Harvey case, Graves wrote that he came to his decision, in part, because he feared that if a crime was committed, and DNA evidence suggested a male perpetrator, investigators wouldn't think to look for a woman. That might be true, but Graves also argued that a man can't become a woman; it's a self-canceling position. Never mind that those silly, untrained police officers keep managing to catch the villains, even when they dress up in wigs and have gender-neutral names such as Pat, Jan or, dare I suggest it? Teddy.
Graves even wrote, in an astonishing turn of phrase, that "... society should not bow to medical science." In fairness to Graves, he was trying to say that just because doctors have the ability to perform one procedure or another doesn't mean we have to think it's a good idea. But the way he chose to say it makes one consider whether he also thinks that just because scientists can prove global warming is occurring doesn't mean we have to believe it. To further that point, Graves cited Genesis as a basis to say that, "The DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female."
That's the nice thing about the Bible. If you try hard enough, you can make it say whatever you want.
Essay writing skills aside, Graves' opinion is that having a sex-change operation and changing your name to match are fraudulent because you're only pretending to be the opposite gender. He even quotes from the dictionary to substantiate his claims. He didn't bother to quote the definition of fraud, though, and three different office dictionaries agreed that for something to be fraudulent there must be an element of deceit or trickery to gain an advantage.
Neither Harvey nor Ingram is trying to deceive anyone. Harvey's wife of many years and Ingram's boyfriend are fully aware of the circumstances, as are all their friends and acquaintances. And if there's no fraud, the law says, the judge must grant the request as five other Oklahoma district court judges have done in similar cases.
Judge Graves isn't really judging cases under the law; he's using his robe and gavel to judge people under his own set of rules.
And that defines a lot of words: Misfeasance and bigot come to mind First.