The Spanish government has passed legislation allowing transsexuals to officially change their name and gender without needing to undergo gender reassignment surgery first.

Despite opposition from the conservative Popular Party, the law progressed through the country’s lower legislative chamber last week.

The new legislation asks transsexuals to obtain and present an official medical diagnosis outlining a clinically proven case of gender dysfunction.

The applicant must also have undergone appropriate treatment for two years. Only then can changes in official identity documents be implemented.

Prior to the legislation, Spanish transsexuals could only change their name and gender after undergoing a sex change operation and subsequently winning the approval of law courts.

In a joint statement, Pedro Zerolo, a spokesman for social affairs in the ruling socialist party and Cara Antonelli, who represents gay and lesbian interests in the party, said:

“Spain has placed itself at the forefront of Europe, as a leader in transsexual rights.”

The legislation brings Spain a step closer to countries such as Britain, where transsexuals benefit from greater legal recognition under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

The legislation follows the approval of same-sex marriages by the Socialist government in 2005.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was elected into government in May 2004.

The introduction of greater rights for the gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals marks something of a turning point in Spain given its conservative Catholic past.