Gender identity and marriage equality

By Sally Rush
15 Dec 2012

Last week the Minister for Women and Equalities made a statement putting forward proposals which she described as "changing the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married - putting an end to the distressing process of having to end a marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued". [1]

There has been lots of discussion and debate around equal marriage but almost none of it has even acknowledged let alone discussed this aspect. Indeed within the press statement which was issued by Maria Miller's department, this part of the proposals was right at the end of the document.

The shortened version of the press release visible on the website makes no mention of this important element of the proposals. [2] It is perhaps not surprising then that the language used in much of the debate has talked of "gay marriage" and "same sex marriage" rather than of equal marriage.

The reasons for the exclusion from public discussion of the part of the proposals relating to transsexuals are mixed. One factor is simply that the proposed changes to make marriage rather than simply civil partnerships available to same sex couples relates to the civil rights of a much greater number of people.

But I believe there are other issues too. Not least among them is that some of the most vocal pressure groups on this issue want to portray it as a single issue piece of legislation. On one level it is a single issue because the equal marriage proposals are about exactly what the title implies: equal marriage for all and that is one issue. However, within that there is this sub-division between gay and lesbian sex couples who wish to marry and couples who wish to retain their existing marriages or civil partnerships when a transsexual member of that couple gains a full gender recognition certificate.

The invisibility and silence on the trans aspect of the proposals is further of perpetuated because it highlights the reductionist arguments of some of the pressure groups and the way that the debate is more complex than they wish to acknowledge. Take my own situation for example. Next year my partner and I plan to enter into a civil partnership. If the change in the law goes ahead we will be able to retain that civil partnership. If the Coalition for Marriage and others are successful in stopping the legislation from going through we will be forced to dissolve that civil partnership and enter into a marriage in order for my partner to get his full gender recognition certificate.

Conversely there will be happily married couples who will still be forced into divorce and then have to enter into civil partnerships in order to get the full gender recognition if the legislation is stopped. Thus in this situation those campaigning against the equal marriage proposals are on one level campaigning for maintaining a situation which encourages divorce in certain circumstances.

There is another painful choice available of course, and that is in order to retain their current marital status that the transsexual person continues to hold an interim gender recognition certificate rather than a full one. That has last choice has implications I don't have space to go into here, sufficient to say it is not a satisfactory situation to be in and is also something these proposals will be removing.

Finally, the silence on this aspect of the proposals and the way that that the language has been used within the debate is symptomatic of the everyday marginalisation, invisibility and misunderstanding transsexuals face within the media and wider society. The silence needs to be broken, just as the discrimination currently enshrined in law needs to be removed.

References

[1] Department for Culture, Media and Sport: 'Marriage for everyone - Government sets out plan for equal marriage' - http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/media_releases/9585.aspx

[2] Shortened version of DCMS media release - http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/news_stories/9584.aspx

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© Sally Rush is a Community Engagement Officer and Methodist local preacher, with an academic focus on single parents in churches. See 'Journey through the filed of life': http://tractorgirl.wibsite.com/

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