LGB, trans and marriage things that are now LibDem policy

Equalities Speech

For the last year I’ve had the good fortune to be able to serve as a member of the Liberal Democrat Equality Policy Working Group, and yesterday conference accepted the motion that came out of that, making it official party policy.

Equalities SpeechThere is lots of good stuff in there, but I did want to highlight the LGBT and marriage sections in particular. We heard much evidence from other groups too, and some of the awful statistics relating to education and stop-and-search for young Afro-Caribbean men in particular stick in my mind – but others deserve the credit for campaigning on those areas, so I’ll let them talk about them.

Remember, these are now official party policy. They are not just policy of the LGBT group or aspirational aims of a subgroup. Actual official party policy. (Some of these items were already party policy, but were restated in the policy document for clarity)

LGB and LGBT issues

  • Review the Blood Ban. We’re currently in the ridiculous situation where a man who has sex with other men, even safe sex, is banned from giving blood for 12 months. However, it doesn’t matter how many unsafe sexual relationships anyone else has as they can still give blood. Even more confusingly, if you are a woman married to (And having sex with) a bisexual man who has ever had sex with another man, you can not give blood ever. Even if your husband can.
  • An evidence-based approach to tackling *phobic bullying in schools. There is an evidence-gathering programme, started by LibDem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson MP, that will report back on how we can bet do this.
  • …mainstream discourses should consider more authentic ‘inclusive sexualities’ in advertising, media, and sport to help break down prejudice. and more specifically later on positive images of transgender individuals in central government publications. Hopefully self-explanatory!

Trans issues

  • ‘X’ (Unspecified) gender markers on passports. A big benefit for the non-binary community if we can make it a reality, but this is good for all trans and intersex people and society in general. There is no particular reason the state needs to concern itself with gender in the vasy majority of situations, especially when it comes to official ID. For example, did you know about the very patriarchal approach of the DVLA, which includes titles on women’s driving licenses but not men’s?
  • Ending the Spousal Veto. If you don’t know what the Spousal Veto is, Sarah Brown has an excellent primer here. In short, the veto was introduced by the Same-Sex Marriage Act and allows a partner to block legal gender recognition of a spouse who has transitioned and prevent them obtaining potection from employment discrimination, even after the two year wait required for the legal process.
  • Restoring stolen trans marriages. Under the pre-same-sex-marriage regime, even if a couple stayed together they were required to have their marriage annulled if one partner wanted to fully transition.
  • Removing the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to obtain legal gender recognition. This would further reduce unwelcome medical gatekeeping when it comes to people’s identities, and also fix the mess that intersex people find themselves in. Currently, if you have an intersex condition and potentially had your legal gender assigned arbitrarily by a doctor at birth, you are unable to obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (It’s a different diagnosis) and thus can not obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Non-LGBT marriage issues

  • Allow the Church of England to decide itself if it wants to carry out same-sex marriage. At the moment, the Church of England is prohibited by law from carrying out same-sex marriage, but with the way things are going I can well see that changing in the not too distant future.
  • Allow Non-religious (Humanist) marriage ceremonies. Already permitted in Scotland, we would like to see this introduced in the rest of the UK.
  • Include both parent’s names on marriage certificates. Current certificates only list the father, which is a very outdated patriarchal approach.

You can download the full policy paper, in .docx format, here.

Trans amendments to the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Bill

A number of amendments for trans people have been submitted formally in parliament, but unless you’re a legal whiz with some spare time to hand it’s not immediately obvious what they are. So, here’s a quick guide to what the relevant ones do…

Amendment 4 – Prevent voiding of marriages with a trans person

At the moment, a spouse can have a marriage voided (As if it had never happened) by claiming they did not know that their partner had a gender recognition certificate at the time they married, and this amendment removes this. There is no similar provision covering, for example, religion or similar and creates a situation whereby a spouse who does know about their partner’s history later claims ignorance if their partner is not very publicly “out”.

Amendment 5 – Remove spousal veto of legal recognition of gender

Because a marriage would, under the existing system, need to be converted to or from a civil partnership on one partner transitioning, there is a requirement for an interim Gender Recognition Certificate to be issued and the existing partnership be annulled prior to full recognition of legal rights. This was done to prevent a spouse being forcibly re-entered into a new relationship (Civil partnership or Marriage) they didn’t want and could not get out of due to the one-year minimum term before divorce can be applied for in a new relationship.

This is no longer the case, but the bill did not reflect that fully. Instead, it allowed a partner to delay or potentially block someone getting full legal rights in their acquired gender by refusing to give consent, a situation that would also incur additional costs for the trans person by forcing them to use the interim GRC process.

The amendment levels the playing field by only issuing an interim GRC if both parties request it, rather than simply if the spouse refuses consent. (As it stands, it also causes an Interim GRC to be issued in the case of a civil partnership, because the current bill does not allow for mixed-sex civil partnerships)

It takes 2 years post-transition to get a GRC, so an unhappy spouse still has plenty of time to apply for divorce.

Amendment 6 is tidy-up related to amendment 5, removing clauses that are no longer relevant.

Amendment 7 – Restoration of lost marriages

This simply allows marriages that had to be annulled so that someone could get legal recognition to be reinstated as if they had never been broken. If you want to know more, Sarah wrote about this for the Huffington Post.

Amendment 8 – Reissue of marriage and birth certificates

The bill did not make reissue of marriage certificates explicit, but this amendment does. It allow allows birth certificates to be reissued, with consent of all concerned. (The other named parent if the child is under 16, otherwise the child themselves)

There is still more we’d like to get done (Fixing pensions issues and swapping gendered terms like husband/wife for gender-neutral and non-binary terms like partner) but time is limited! Hopefully they’ll get in too eventually.

Of course, tabling amendments doesn’t mean they will pass but it does mean we are well on the way.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd finally, many thanks to Dr Julian Huppert MP for his help getting the amendments tabled.

Gender Recognition Act administrivia: List of approved countries updated

Likely of interest to few people, but I try to get parliamentary business about Trans issues “out there” as it’s otherwise very poorly reported.

Following a Statutory Instrument committee yesterday, the list of “approved countries and territories” under the Gender Recognition Act has been updated for the first time since the act was passed in 2005. What this basically means is that if you have gender recognition in one of these countries, you can get a UK GRC without needing all the proof and paperwork.

The new list is here and the following countries have been added compared to the old list:

Gender Recognition Act penalties

Because of all the Equality Act discussion detail recently, I’ve been thinking about other trans-related legislation. An interesting and not often talked about offence is under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which basically makes it illegal for anyone to “out” someone if they’ve found out by virtue of being an employer or similar. Although it’s a criminal offence, the penalties are quite mild: A “Level 5″ fine, which is up to £5,000. As an upper cap, that’s pretty mild given you could quite possibly maliciously destroy someone’s life.

I submitted a batch of Freedom of Information requests to various bodies: In England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service, for Scotland the Procurator Fiscal and Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland.

Firstly, kudos to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland – I had a reply in 48 hours, well less than the 20 days they need to reply in. That’s amazing and much to their credit.

As to the responses themselves:

…there are no charge codes relating to [the Act], so no cases have been reported relating to this Act… (Procurator Fiscal)

…no cases have been reported to the PPS since the introduction of the legislation… (Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland)

…No offences under this Act/Section are recorded on the CPS Management Information System… (Crown Prosecution Service)

So it seems that it’s such a pointless offence that not only has nobody ever been convicted, but nobody has even been prosecuted… and there has never been a reported case to consider. Does anyone have a possible case they’d like to try to report?