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Transsexuals Win Rights to Marry, Amend Birth Certificates

Change in the law to be annouced by government officials in the next few weeks

Press For Change

United Kingdom Houses of Parliament
[UNITED KINGDOM] - Transsexuals are to be given the right to change their birth certificates and marry in their adopted sex, after a 30-year legal battle.

The lord chancellor, Lord Irvine, is poised to announce the change just weeks before a male-to-female transsexual was due to ask the House of Lords for a ruling that her 20-year marriage to a man was valid.

The move has been forced on ministers by a judgment last July from the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, holding that the UK law, which insists that gender is irrevocably established at birth, violates transsexuals' right to respect for private and family life.

The Strasbourg judges said: "A serious interference with private life arose from the conflict between social reality and law, which placed the transsexuals in an anomalous position in which they could experience feelings of vulnerability, humiliation and anxiety.

"In the 21st century the right of transsexuals to personal development and to physical and moral security in the full sense enjoyed by others in society can no longer be regarded as a matter of controversy requiring the lapse of time to cast clearer light on the issues involved."

The UK is one of four countries in Europe - with Albania, Andorra and Ireland - which still refuse to allow transsexuals to alter their birth certificates. The ban has barred them from marrying in their new sex, affected the age at which they qualify for a state pension and infringed their privacy by ensuring that their previous history is inevitably revealed to any new employer.

A month before the Strasbourg judgment, which the government expected to lose, a working group of officials from 12 government departments was reconvened to consider how to take reforms forward.

In a series of court cases judges have expressed sympathy for the plight of transsexuals, but said reform was a matter for parliament.

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Elizabeth Bellinger, whose case is scheduled for hearing in the House of Lords next month, narrowly lost her case by a majority of two to one in the court of appeal in July 2000. Both judges who ruled against her called on the government to change the law.

Last July the Strasbourg court ruled in favour of Chris tine Goodwin, formerly a male bus driver, and another male-to-female transsexual named only as "I". Ms Goodwin claimed that the UK government violated her right to a private life and discriminated against her by making her wait until she was 65 for a state pension.

Ms I argued that her right to respect for her private life was breached because she had to produce a birth certificate showing her as male to register for a nursing course.

Stephen Whittle, of the transsexuals' campaigning group Press for Change, said: "I'm really pleased they're finally doing it. The fact that they're waiting nearly six months from the Strasbourg decision is appalling."

Dr Whittle, a female-to-male transsexual and law lecturer who has played a leading role in the campaign for transsexuals' rights, said the group was concerned that there might be loopholes in the new law and delays before it went on the statute book.

"There's no point in doing it if there are loopholes. The nature of the loopholes is what has caused trouble in the past.

"What I really want to know is that they're going to do it in the next session. Are they going to put in place more consultative processes because if they are we're on a hiding to nothing."

He said that one stumbling block was what should happen to people who had changed sex but remained within existing marriages, in some cases for pension reasons. Ministers were divided on whether they should have to divorce if they wanted to change the sex on their birth certificates.

Christine Burns, of Press for Change, said: "It's vital that the proposals provide full legal recognition for all purposes. If there are any exceptions, it will be worthless."

Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and chairwoman of the parliamentary forum on transsexualism, said: "I hope any measures the government introduces will get a fair wind in the Commons and the Lords and we'll start to catch up with more advanced countries."

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