United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The United Kingdom passed legislation enabling changes to sex/gender designations on birth certificates, allowing transsexuals to legally marry in their “acquired” gender. The act has been heralded especially because it does not require that a person undergo gender reassignment surgery for the change on his or her birth certificate to be valid.

Summary of Event

After more than thirty years of struggle, transsexuals in the United Kingdom gained the right to marry in their “acquired” gender after the country’s Gender Recognition Bill received royal assent on July 1, 2004, becoming the Gender Recognition Act. The act went into force on April 4, 2005. The new legislation made it possible for transsexuals to change the sex/gender Sex/gender[sex gender];and transsexual marriage[transsexual marriage] designation on their birth certificates, a designation that is required in order for transsexual marriages to be legally recognized as “heterosexual.” [kw]United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage (Apr. 4, 2005) [kw]Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage, United Kingdom’s (Apr. 4, 2005) [kw]Legalizes Transsexual Marriage, United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act (Apr. 4, 2005) [kw]Transsexual Marriage, United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes (Apr. 4, 2005) [kw]Marriage, United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual (Apr. 4, 2005) Gender Recognition Act (2004) Transsexuals;and marriage rights[marriage rights] Marriage;transsexuals United Kingdom;and transsexual marriage rights[transsexual marriage rights] [c]Transgender/transsexuality;Apr. 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage[2790] [c]Civil rights;Apr. 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage[2790] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage[2790] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage[2790] Ashley, April Bellinger, Elizabeth Irvine, Lord Scott-Joynt, Michael

Until the passage of the law, the United Kingdom was one of only four European countries that refused to recognize gender reassignment legally. The others are Ireland, Albania, and Andorra. Gender recognition under the new law does not require applicants to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and it prohibits disclosure of the applicant’s change-in-gender status.

Since the high court first annulled the marriage of April Ashley and aristocrat Arthur Corbett in 1970, the British had refused to allow transsexual marriage. However, the European Court of Human Rights, beginning with two rulings in July, 2002, had found that British law violated the human rights of transsexuals. That finding was reiterated on January 7, 2004, when the European Court of Justice ruled that British law, which denied transsexuals the right to marry, was in violation of European law because it would make couples in question ineligible for a survivor’s pension.

One of the highest-profile cases was that of Elizabeth Bellinger, a male-to-female transsexual who had gender reassignment surgery in 1981. Before the surgery, Bellinger had lived as a woman for ten years. She married Michael Bellinger in 1981 in Lincolnshire, at which time she was not asked to produce legal proof of her gender. After twenty-two years of living together as husband and wife, the couple was unable to get British courts to recognize their marriage, losing appeals in the high court, the appeal court, and, ultimately, in the House of Lords on April 10, 2003. Although rejecting Bellinger’s claim to a legal marriage, the law lords found that her human rights had been violated and so directed Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, to pay half the legal costs of Bellinger’s appeal.

Opposition to the gender recognition bill came from the bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, and several Tories in the House of Lords, who argued that the bill would undermine marriage and that it ran counter to logic and the beliefs of more than one religion. The Press Association News quoted Lord Filkin in rebuttal; he explained that “the law is not seeking to change the sex of an individual, it is seeking to recognize that a change has happened.” The new legislation is administered by the Gender Recognition Panel.

Significance

The Gender Recognition Act has changed the lives of thousands of transsexuals in the United Kingdom. In addition to legalizing transsexual marriage and enabling transsexuals to claim pensions with their acquired gender, the law also ensures that male-to-female transsexuals are not sent to male prisons in the event that they are convicted of a crime by British courts. The passage of this law also brings the United Kingdom into compliance with the human rights conventions of the European Union.

The British law has been heralded as progressive by transgender activists especially because it does not require that a person undergo gender reassignment surgery before receiving a new birth certificate. Some transsexuals are unable or unwilling to have the surgery. Gender Recognition Act (2004) Transsexuals;and marriage rights[marriage rights] Marriage;transsexuals United Kingdom;and transsexual marriage rights[transsexual marriage rights]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Britain’s Bar on Transsexual Marriages Contrary to EU Law.” Agence France Presse, Brussels, January 7, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Amanda, and Anthony Looch. “Bishop Condemns Transsexual Marriage Plans.” Press Association News, December 18, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Andrew. “Transsexuals Marriage Bill Clears Lords.” Press Association News, February 10, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Gender Recognition Act 2004.” Gender Recognition Panel. Tribunal Services, Department for Constitutional Affairs. http://www.grp.gov.uk/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodchild, Sophie. “Ministers to Change Law on Transsexual Marriages.” The Independent, July 6, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">International Commission on Civil Status. Transsexualism in Europe. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, distributed by Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Manhattan, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rozenberg, Joshua. “Lords Reject Appeal over Transsexual Marriage.” The Daily Telegraph, April 11, 2003, p. 13.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sharpe, Andrew N. Transgender Jurisprudence: Dysphoric Bodies of Law. London: Cavendish, 2002.

1981: Gay and Lesbian Palimony Suits Emerge

1992: Transgender Nation Holds Its First Protest

June, 1992: Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation

1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages

August 6, 1994: Japanese American Citizens League Supports Same-Gender Marriage

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

October 27, 1999: Littleton v. Prange Withholds Survivor Rights from Transsexual Spouses

December 20, 1999: Baker v. Vermont Leads to Recognition of Same-Gender Civil Unions

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

April, 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions

June 17, 2003, and July 19, 2005: Canada Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

November 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships

June 30, 2005: Spain Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

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