Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

Singles clause in Gender Bill is ‘forced divorce’

Tuesday, 12 August, 2014
The Irish Times
by Fiona Gartland, general reporter

The retention of a requirement in the latest version of the Gender Recognition Bill that states applicants for legal gender recognition must be single amounts to “forced divorce” and is “neither necessary nor desirable”, the Equality Authority has said.

Betty Purcell, acting chair of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, with which the authority is merging, said the requirement will impose “significant hardship on families where a spouse or civil partner wishes to gain legal recognition of a preferred gender”.

Ms Purcell was speaking at the launch of a document on the Equality Authority’s observations on the revised Bill.

The Gender Recognition Bill 2014 was designed to provide for legal recognition of the acquired gender of transgender people.

Once it is passed, a transgender person will be able to get a birth certificate containing his or her acquired gender instead of the gender registered at birth.

The revised Bill stipulates that a person applying must be single. It also includes a provision for 16 and 17 year olds to apply with the consent of their parents, and with two letters from physicians and a court order.

The Bill was published in its revised form in June this year. It had been in planning for seven years and was a response to a ruling that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by not having a process to legally recognise the acquired gender of transgender people.

Ms Purcell said the authority did not believe that allowing a married person have legal gender recognition would make their marriage invalid and be unconstitutional. “It is the gender of each party at the date of the marriage that counts in determining the validity of the marriage,” she said.

She also said it may prove impossible for a transgender spouse to “truthfully divorce”, given the conditions required for divorce including separation for four out of five years.

She welcomed a decision to remove a clause that would have permitted transgender and intersex people to be excluded from competitive sport and suggested an approach used in the Olympics, including an individual’s more hormone levels could be used.

Also speaking at the event, Broden Giambrone, chief executive of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, said under the Bill married transgender people would have to choose between “their families and the legal recognition of their true identities”.

He welcomed the inclusion of a provision for 16- and 17-year-olds to apply for gender recognition but said the process was “onerous” and could take applicants until they are 18 to get through it. He also called for under 16s to be allowed apply for gender recognition.

And he said the requirement that a GP provide a statement that a person has transitioned or is transitioning to the acquired gender was unnecessary.

“Legal recognition of my gender identity should not be bound by any third party including medical professionals,” he said.