Trans folk and marriage without a Gender Recognition Certificate

There has been some discussion both in my Inbox and on Twitter recently regarding the implications of the Same-Sex Marriage Act for Trans folk in England and Wales.

To try to clear things up, I have written the below (With my LGBT+ Liberal Democrats hat on, so it carries some weight) to the General Register Office. Their auto-reply promises a response within five working days, but I would imagine this one may take a little longer.

I am fairly confident of a positive reply in terms of all aspects of this with the exception of the wording to be used in a civil ceremony, which is less clear. (Although I have avoided phrasing the question below in such a way that it might unnecessarily provoke a negative response from the GRO) Sadly, non-binary folk are completely out of luck as the law requires use of either the word “husband” or “wife” in a civil ceremony. (Religious ceremonies can differ, the most notable example being that for the language used by Quakers is left up to them and is not dictated by legislation)

One issue was raised after I had sent this off, which is that buildings must be registered for same-sex marriage separately from registration of for mixed-sex marriage. Getting married without a GRC in an building which is inappropriately registered may cause problems further down the line – as to the nature of the problems people might face if the marriage collapsed, that’s one for the courts to sort out. I fear the answer would favor whoever can afford better lawyers which will often not be the trans person in the relationship. Updated 30/04: This statement was a misunderstanding on my part – you do not need to have a building registered separately for civil marriage, only for religious marriage.

Thanks to Jess Key for doing the digging around in the legislation on these last two points.

On contacting their local registry office, many people have been told that there is no requirement to specify legal gender when applying for a marriage license, (e.g. It is acceptable to apply with a passport rather than birth certificate) no requirement for legal gender to be revealed during the marriage ceremony and no requirement for legal gender to be revealed on the resulting marriage certificate.

This tallies with our understanding of the law and is a huge benefit to trans folk who have legally changed their name and live full time in their acquired gender but for whom it would not be desirable or would not be possible to change their legal gender. As well as the emotional impact of being incorrectly gendered on your wedding day, people in this position may have transitioned many years ago and fear “coming out” to friends, colleagues etc if their birth gender is listed on notices or referred to during the wedding ceremony.

Unfortunately, the advice given has been contradicted by DCMS who stated that marriage documents would all show birth gender for those not in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate. At least some solicitors also seem to be unclear as to what the position is, in particular with the correct wording (husband or wife) to be used during the ceremony.

If you could clarify your understanding of the situation regarding this for people who do not hold a GRC, we would be grateful. Any references to official policy would also be useful.

5 comments

  1. That all seems like a massive mess and is really disappointing. I have my own reasons for having problems with having to use the h- and w- words, but that is frivolous compared to this.

    Also needing separate licenses for different- and same-sex marriage seems dangerous because this looks like it could be used by secular venues (hotels, etc) to discriminate against same sex weddings. Do you have any news on that?

    1. From the trans perspective, it’s not that bad – just confusing because the DCMS put their oar in and contradicted what everyone else was saying.

      Having two parallel bits of legislation for same-sex and opposite-sex marriage is a mess though, and bound to lead to problems. I need to double-check the licensing rules though, as I’m finding contradictory information on it.

  2. So.. I transitioned in Jan 2010 and have lived and worked full time since then. Passport, bank accoutns, doctors ect all changed to my correct name after changing via deed poll. No issues what so ever. I’ve now met the man of my dreams and he’s asked me to marry him. I never applied for a GRC as i personally didnt need one to continue living my now normal everyday life. Can i marry this man and be legally referred to as his wife without a GRC?

    1. Officially, the wording of the wedding ceremony is supposed to say “husband” if you don’t have a GRC. In practice, there’s no obligation on you to tell the registrar you have a GRC and even if you do, not all of them are aware of the official guidance and will say “wife” anyway.

      I have no idea if using the wrong wording means the marriage isn’t valid if someone finds out and complains.

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