Until June 15th, six out of eight Australian states and territories had laws barring married transgender people from changing their gender on their birth certificates. If they wanted their gender identity to be affirmed, they were legally required to divorce their partners. This sounds like a gross violation of human rights-and a woman from New South Wales agreed.
The woman, who prefers to be known only as G, was born in 1974 and began her transition in 2000. In 2005, she had gender reassignment surgery and married a woman. After her assignment surgery, she was issued a new passport and driver’s license that stated her gender as female. However, her marriage meant that when she attempted to change her gender on her birth certificate a few months later, she was unsuccessful. In order to change sex on a birth certificate in New South Wales, an individual must be over the age of eighteen, have their birth registered in New South Wales, have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and be unmarried. This law was in place to prevent same-sex marriage, which is still not legal in Australia. In 2008 and 2010, she attempted to change her birth certificate again, but continued to be denied.
In 2010, the NSW Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registry wrote to G and informed her that in order to change her birth certificate, she would have to divorce her wife. However, G has said she “is in a loving relationship with her spouse and does not intend to apply for a divorce.” Instead, she took her fight to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. In a decision made on March 17th and published on June 15th, the committee ruled in G’s favor. The committee said that Australia failed to provide evidence as to why a birth certificate change violates laws regarding same-sex marriage, but a passport change does not. There was, therefore, “no apparent reason” to deny the change.
This is a major victory for transgender people in Australia, as laws to this effect exist in six territories. Emily Christie, one of the lawyers representing G, says, “This decision makes it clear that the Human Rights Committee considers gender identity, and the ability to change one’s legal identity, to be of fundamental importance.” The UN has ordered Australia to provide G with a birth certificate labelled ‘female’ and change the law to prevent this from happening again. Australia has until December 15th to respond to this ruling. Of course, Australia still has a long way to go in terms of LGBT acceptance, but nonetheless, this is still a significant victory, and hopefully more will come soon.