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The announcement of a Government Consultation on Equal Marriage is to be warmly welcomed as a prelude to ending a very serious anomaly. Under present UK legislation, those Trans people who were already married prior to their transition (and the implementation of the Gender Recognition Act 2004), and wish to remain so, are not allowed to obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate, nor can they be issued with a new/amended birth certificate. In order to complete their journey, and be legally recognised as male or female, the individual concerned must obtain an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate, which has a six months life, during which time it can be used to annul their marriage, followed by the issue of a full Gender Recognition Certificate. The couple may then, should they wish, contract a Civil Partnership, and some have done this, though many, unwilling to renege on their solemn vows, remain married but, legally at least, in gender limbo.
During the Commons reading of the Gender Recognition Bill one MP observed, “I can think of no other circumstance in which the State tells a couple who are married and who wish to remain married that they must get a divorce” and some MPs objected to this requirement as inhumane and destructive of the family. In spite of this opposition the Bill was carried with this provision intact because of the perception, at that stage, that the country was not ready for equal marriage. To allow couples to remain married, after one had transitioned, would have created same-sex marriage by default, and to do so would have undermined the case for Civil Partnerships – the legislation for which was being debated at the same time – namely, that Civil Partnerships were not the same as heterosexual marriage.
This Government, it seems, is prepared to review that, and quite rightly, as experience, seven years on, does suggest that many people in this country have come to regard civil partnerships as marriage in all but name, and the notion of a difference – apart from the gender of the persons – unconvincing. The commitment and love, the sacrifices and compromises are, all more or less, the same. Prior to the Civil Partnership Act faithful same-sex couples existed in significant numbers, but the legislative change has made their relationships more public and far better known.
‘Hetero-normative’ is the concept that comes to mind to describe the thinking that led to the cruel dilemma that requires a married Trans person to divorce in order to become fully who they are. It resembles the old protocol that used to insist that a Trans person first divorce in order to access treatment; the assumption being that their sexuality would realign with their gender after transition: the mistaken belief that both prior to and after treatment they would be attracted to people of the ‘opposite’ sex. But that outcome cannot be assumed.
Ironically, it was those Trans people who were in a same-sex relationship prior to transition (and whose sexual orientation has remained constant) who have benefitted most from the current legislation, and who were the first to be married, whether in Church or the Registry Office – their joy tinged with sorrow at the impossible choice being faced by their married friends.
These are matters I addressed at ‘Come Out & Play 2011’, the LGBT Human Rights Summit and the LGBT Health Summit in Cardiff earlier this month, where I joined lawyer Erich Hou, Su Rathgeben Knan of Liberal Judaism, Tony Green & Sharon Ferguson of LGCM and Peter Tatchell of Outrage on the Equal Marriage Panel to consider the legal and religious overview. At the Press Conference that preceded it I commented that Changing Attitude’s current campaign is ‘Civil Partnerships in Church Now!’ and that, Changing Attitude fully supports the Equal Marriage Campaign.
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