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Sarah E. Brown

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Equal Marriage Is a Big Boost for Transgender Couples - But We're Not There Yet

Posted: 06/02/2013 13:01

For the last nine years, many transgender people in the UK have faced a terrible dilemma. In 2004 the Gender Recognition Act was passed. This piece of legislation allowed transgender people rights in law to be recognised as their identified gender. This is more important than you might initially think: I made a successful application under the act and the Gender Recognition Certificate I was then granted explains that I am, "for all purposes", female.

"All purposes" includes everything from employment non-discrimination to going to the right prison if I'd been found guilty of a crime. Imagine the horror faced by people who look female, sound female, ARE female who find themselves placed in a male prison. This happens, here in the UK.

"All purposes" also includes marriage, and this is where the terrible dilemma comes from. Transgender people whose marriages survived transition were offered a choice: we could keep our marriages, or we could have our human rights back. We couldn't have both. I married my wife, Sylvia, in 2001.

She knew I was transgender, but I thought I could live without transitioning. Over the next few years, I appreciated that I was wrong and so in 2005 I did. After two years, I could theoretically apply for Gender Recognition, but I held back, hoping for marriage equality, hoping for reform of an unjust law.

By 2009 I had given up hope that the Labour government of the time would show interest in fixing the mess it created. It seemed to feel that civil partnerships were "good enough", and the prospect of transgender people getting a better deal was not even on the horizon.

Sylvia and I convinced ourselves that going through the process to annul our marriage and obtain a civl partnership was just bureaucracy. We convinced ourselves that those who claimed marriage and civil partnership were really the same were right. We were so very wrong.

After a circuit judge annulled our marriage, we left the court in tears, holding hands. Over the next few weeks, we barely let each other out of sight. It felt as if something visceral had been torn away. Our civil partnership ceremony in the grounds of a Cambridge College was lovely, but when the registrar pronounced us "civil partners" it felt like a kick in the teeth.

It was brought home to me there and then at the culmination of the ceremony that looked like a marriage, at the point where I was supposed to be overjoyed, that my country did not regard me as a first class citizen, equal to my straight friends. I wasn't anybody's "wife" and sylvia wasn't mine. We were "civil partners". Despite standing there in a wedding dress, I felt like I'd made no more than a business transaction.

It still hurts; the three and a bit years since haven't lessened that. The court even confiscated our marriage certificate, and not knowing they were going to, I never made a copy. As far as the state is concerned, our marriage never existed, and the only proof I have otherwise is a decree absolute. The government is proposing to end the practice of marriage confiscation with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, but not for everyone. If you are in a civil partnership, you still can't have your rights back until you end it, one way or another.

Those who see civil partnership as an acceptable alternative to a state of matrimony they want nothing to do with will continue to face the same dilemma I did, from the other side. And the government is not proposing to put right what it made wrong. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill says that marriage will no-longer be an obstacle to gender recognition, so if I'd waited another five years I could still be married, but it is silent on the elephant in the room: the marriages like mine, taken under duress, are not to be reinstated. To add insult to injury, after having to pay to have it taken away in the first place, we will have to pay again to have the civil partnership converted into a marriage. The date on the certificate will be the date of our civil partnership though, and not the date we still celebrate as our wedding anniversary, in defiance of the government's fiction that our marriage never existed. This is likely the only chance that people in our situation will ever get to have our relationships restored.

This Bill must be amended. Those in civil partnerships must not be required to surrender them under duress, the way I had to surrender my marriage, and those marriages which were taken under duress should be given back. I'm not even asking for an apology: I just want them to put things right.

 

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