Volume 88, Number 1

April 2013

Assuming Responsibility for Who You Are: The Right to Choose “Immutable” Identity Characteristics

Anthony R. Enriquez

Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a district court case challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, explicitly adopted a novel definition of immutability under the Equal Protection Clause. Now held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, Golinski’s discussion of immutability remains relevant because it articulated the rationale behind a number of recent lower court decisions in equal protection jurisprudence that reach beyond the context of sexual orientation. Such decisions turn away from talismanic protection of immutable characteristics determined by birth, and toward the right of all persons to choose fundamental aspects of their identity. They disavow “biological immutability,”—the traditional view of immutability which refers to a characteristic one cannot change, “determined solely by the accident of birth”—and instead rely on asylum law’s definition of immutability: not exclusively a characteristic one cannot change, but also a chosen characteristic that one should not be forced to change because it is fundamental to identity. This Note argues that asylum law’s “fundamental immutability” standard belongs in equal protection jurisprudence because it resolves inconsistencies in traditional equal protection jurisprudence caused by a biological immutability standard and because it harmonizes recent lower court opinions discussing race- and gender-related equal protection in an era of increased multiracial, intersex, and transgender visibility.