Certifying Identity

42 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2014 Last revised: 2 Apr 2014

See all articles by Annette Ruth Appell

Annette Ruth Appell

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: February 27, 2014


Certifying Identity centers the birth certificate and its role in the modern state, not merely as a reporter and portable record of having been born, but also as a powerful creator, regulator, and arbiter of identity and belonging, including sex, gender, race, age, production, reproduction, and kinship. Initially a public health and children’s rights innovation, the birth certificate’s assignment of family and individual identity connects the certified person to norms, rights and limitations according to the state’s certification of the sex, race, age, parentage, and birthplace of the body born. The birth certificate is both historical and constitutive in that it creates and certifies individual identity, even when that identity is malleable or ambiguous. This article rehearses the modern practice of recording births and the advent of the birth certificate — disciplines that imbue humans with intrinsic and instrumental value, but also create, regulate, and define individual identity through permutations of race, sex, gender, and kinship with and without the consent of the person certified. The birth certificate serves state interests in identifying, tracking, marshaling, and managing human resources. This certificate also ties the born person to the state or nation, not just in the sense that being born in the United States creates citizenship, but also as a rights-holder — someone to be counted. As such, the certificate serves as a gatekeeper for gender, family, race, legitimacy, and identity according to the birth certificate’s terms, categories, and data.

Keywords: identity, gender, sex, race, rights, family, lesbian, gay, queer, homosexual, modern state, norms

Suggested Citation

Appell, Annette Ruth, Certifying Identity (February 27, 2014). Capital University Law Review, Vol. 42, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2402242

Annette Ruth Appell (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-7912 (Phone)

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