The Gender Recognition Reform bill introduced by the Scottish government last spring was passed in the country’s Parliament in a final 86-39 vote Thursday. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing transgender Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.
The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.
Colin MacFarlane, director for Stonewall Scotland and Northern Ireland at the U.K.’s largest LGBTQ advocacy and rights organization, in a statement released after the vote called the bill’s passage “a tremendous step forward for trans rights and for LGBTQ people in Scotland.”
“It brings Scotland into line with international best practice and once again establishes itself as a world leader on human rights, by making a small change which brings dignity to trans people who deserve to be legally recognised for who they are,” MacFarlane said.
“The U.K. government must now follow and introduce legislation to ensure that trans people U.K.-wide have access to the same standards of human rights,” he added.
Passage of the measure on which Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament) commenced debate earlier this week, was acrimonious and at times heated PinkNewsUK reported, as Tories opposed to the measure forced a vote on the timetable late Tuesday into the early morning hours of Wednesday for considering the amendments to the legislation and raised further motions as well as points of order before the debate on the more than 150 amendments to the bill began.
The measure in Scotland was introduced after years of delay in Westminster by the U.K. government and its Parliament. PinkNewsUK journalist Maggie Baska noted:
“At present, trans people in the U.K. must apply to a gender recognition panel and present a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — a laborious process that can take years due to the incredibly long wait times at NHS gender clinics. People can only apply to be legally recognized as male or female — nonbinary genders are not legally recognized in the U.K.
Applicants must provide two medical reports, and at least one needs to include details of any gender-affirming treatments or healthcare the individual plans to have. It also needs to confirm a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
The individual must also prove they’ve lived in their ‘acquired’ gender for at least two years, and they must swear they intend to do so for the rest of their lives. This can include evidence showing they’ve used a different name in official documents or changed their gender on their driving license or passport.
Additionally, the period in which applicants need to have lived in their acquired gender will be cut to three months or six months for people aged 16 and 17. There is also a new requirement of a ‘waiting period’ of three months after applying when an individual must reconfirm their wish to receive the GRC.
It will no longer be a requirement to submit detailed evidence of the individual living as the other gender.
Trans people wanting to change their legal gender will still need to swear an oath about remaining as their authentic gender for life, and it will continue to be a criminal offence to knowingly make a false application for a GRC.”
Proponents of the GRA Reform Bill put forth in Holyrood argued that the current process is too invasive and causes distress to trans people, who already face marginalization and stigmatization.
With today’s vote, Tories are vowing to block its signature into law by King Charles III, known as Royal Assent, by use of a Section 35 order. In the U.K. system of government, a Section 35 order is intended to prevent laws passed by the Scottish Parliament having “an adverse effect on the operation of the law as it applies to reserved matters.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has defended her government’s action on the GRA Reform legislation and speaking before the vote said that [she] “will never apologize for trying to spread equality.”
“Removing the need for medical diagnosis for a trans person who wants to legally change their gender is one of the purposes of this legislation because that is one of the most traumatic and dehumanising parts of the current system,” Sturgeon said.
Addressing the opposition and Tory arguments that the GRA Reform bill harms women and girls the first minister said:
“As a woman, I know what it’s like to live with the fear at times of potential violence from men.
“I’m a feminist and I will do everything that I can to protect women’s rights for as long as live, but I also think it’s an important part of my responsibility to make life a little bit easier for stigmatised minorities in our country, to make their lives a bit better and remove some of the trauma they live with on a day-to-day basis and I think it is important to do that for the tiny minority of trans people in our society and I will never apologise for trying to spread equality, not reduce it, in our country.”
In London, U.K. Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has made it clear she is against reforms. Badenoch suggested the Scottish bill could have a detrimental impact on the rest of the U.K. because it would not be possible for the legislation to be “fully contained” within Scotland.
She addressed those concerns in a letter she sent to Sturgeon that was leaked to the Times earlier this month.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Alister Jack, the U.K. government’s Scottish secretary, has hinted that Whitehall might block the gender recognition reform. In a statement released after the vote Jack said:
“We share the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this bill, and in particular the safety issues for women and children.
We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other U.K. wide legislation, in the coming weeks — up to and including a section 35 order stopping the bill going for royal assent if necessary.”