Equal Marriage? Not really

UPDATED! Please see below for a potential source of hope to UK couples containing trans people. (26/04/2014)

Today I heard the news that Scotland has passed an amendment to their version of the Same Sex Marriage Bill that might finally make marriage something even approaching a possibility for me. They’re adding a gender-neutral option for wedding vows, allowing couples (regardless of their respective genders) to declare themselves “partners in marriage” rather than “husband and wife”, “wife and wife” or “husband and husband”. If England had made such an amendment, the only things preventing me from getting married on March 29th 2014 would be the more usual obstacles of not being engaged to anyone and not being able to afford a wedding.

As things currently stand, I have one additional and very large impediment preventing me from marrying and it’s one that only trans and intersex people have. It’s also a problem that has been entirely and wilfully created by successive UK governments. 

My problem is that, in a very limited sense that basically *only* effects my ability to marry and has almost zero effect on anything else*, I am “legally female”. I can and do have a male passport, a male NHS medical file, I can (and should) tick “male” on the census, I can describe myself accurately and legally as “male” on any and all government forms and documents… but it suddenly becomes perjury if I want to call myself a “husband” at my own marriage ceremony. Yes, perjury which is a crime with a seven year imprisonment as punishment. Would you be prepared to risk that? I’m not.

The strange and enduring situation that leaves me “legally female” despite my identity and life as a man effectively prevents me from marrying unless I’m prepared for just one day to call myself someone’s “wife”. Unless I can get something called a Gender Recognition Certificate first.

All a gender recognition certificate does is say that you can have a new corrected birth certificate showing your current name and gender. Once you’ve got a corrected birth certificate, you are for all purposes (including marriage) a member of your own gender. Which would be great for people like me except it comes with a host of less-than-helpful strings attached.

To get a corrected birth certificate, any trans person living in the UK (and also British trans people living overseas) is required to prove:
a) that they have been living as their chosen (binary) gender for a period of at least two years and they intend to do so for the rest of their life,
b) that they have a diagnosis of gender identity disorder which must be from one of a government approved list of gender specialists, and
c) that they are not currently married or in a civil partnership (or, from next year, that their opposite gender spouse consents to the marriage continuing after gender recognition).
To do this, they and two doctors, one of whom must be an approved gender specialist fill in a form and provide medical letters stating their diagnosis and detailing any medical treatment undertaken and/or *detailing why certain treatments have not or not yet been undertaken*. They must also provide a statutory declaration saying they have been living as a man or woman and intend to continue to do so, this needs to be notarised by a solicitor *and* they need documentary evidence that they have been using a “gender appropriate name full time for two years or more (i.e. letters from bank, bills, school certificates etc).

The stat dec and the solicitor cost money. The two doctor’s reports also cost money. Getting the diagnosis itself often costs money as waiting lists for NHS gender services are often more than two years long and private gender specialists exist. Then there’s the administration fee. And the postage. And all that has to go to a panel who literally get to decide whether in the eyes of the government you’ve done enough to prove that you’re a man or that you’re a woman. THEY LITERALLY GET TO CHOOSE YOUR GENDER FOR YOU AND YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. You pay even if they refuse your application.
And then, even if they agree with you about who you are, your past and present names get recorded together on a government list just for the purpose of keeping track of who has new birth certificates because they are trans. A list that you don’t have access to (and the public don’t, thankfully) but who you don’t have any say or control over who has access to it. A list that could conceivably end up in the hands of future transphobic governments or transphobic civil servants. But you get a new birth certificate for the trouble of seeing several doctors and a solicitor and spending hundreds of pounds on *paperwork* even if you haven’t already had to spend huge sums on medical care. Once you’ve a new birth certificate, you can marry without committing perjury. If you can afford even a two witness registry office wedding after spending so much *literally buying your right to be treated as a member of your own gender*.

These are not sums of money I can afford to spend. I don’t want to be on a list of trans people somewhere. I do want to at least have the option of getting married someday.

All these problems could have been solved by one or both of these two things:
1. Gender-free marriage vow options
2. Gender recognition by filling in a simple form with no need to submit evidence that doctors agree with you

Hurry up UK and sort these for me. Or do I have to hope for a independent Scotland to get these things sorted first?

*The other thing I know the nebulous concept that is “legal gender” to actually affect in the UK is whether or not you get sent to a gender-appropriate prison.

UPDATE
So, this blog post got sent around a lot, especially in March and it got people talking. The general feeling among trans people and those in solidarity with us is quickly turning *against* the Gender Recognition Act which is seen as draconian, humiliating and just not good enough and that’s in part due to conversations started by me and by this post. However, one person I know, Joel Wallenberg decided to ask at an actual registry office and they said that neither notice nor certificate require a statement of gender”. It looks suspiciously like there simply is no national policy and in at least some places gender-free marriages are entirely possible. Zoe O’Connell is going to ask the General Register Office to get some kind of policy written down and then we’ll know for sure but it looks hopeful that this might go in favour of trans people and our partners and allow us to get married without being misgendered.