Comment: Trans people need equality to get our marriages, confiscated by the state back

Sarah Brown May 19, 2012
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Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Brown explains from the perspective of a transgendered person why she’s supporting the Out4Marriage campaign. The current unfair and discriminating system of opposite sex marriages and same sex civil partnerships has meant that she and her wife were forced to surrender their marriage and instead consider themselves ‘civil partners’.

Much has been written on the subject of the government’s marriage equality consultation. From the perspective of many transgender people, lots of it misses some key points.

The first question in the consultation refers to “marriage regardless of gender”. This wording is significant; the government is not asking about same sex marriage, or even opposite sex civil partnerships. It’s proposing to remove consideration of sex and gender from the recognition of marriage, at least as far as civil marriage is concerned.

This may seem like nitpicking, but precision here matters. What does it mean to define something as being for “opposite sexes” when many trans people fall outside the male/female binary? How are we to interpret marriage between two people of prescribed sexes when that sex can, to all appearances and as far as the state is concerned, change?

These are issues that profoundly affect trans people. Those outside the gender binary are forced to represent themselves as something they’re not as long as the institutions of marriage and civil partnerships are defined as being for “opposite sex” and “same sex” couples (what does it mean to be the opposite of someone who is genderqueer?) People shouldn’t have to lie about who and what they are in order to demonstrate a public commitment of their love.

The consultation raises another key point, tucked away on page 14 of the consultation document under the heading, “Gender Recognition”. In 2004, the Gender Recognition Act was passed. This elder sibling to the Civil Partnership Act granted transgender people official recognition of our acquired genders – something which had been formerly lacking. There’s a catch though. Consider a transgender woman married to a non transgender woman. As far as the state is concerned, one of these women is “really” a man (and can be locked up in a men’s prison if charged with a crime – this happens). The government is able to turn a blind-eye to the existence of this ostensibly same-sex marriage.

However, it will not grant gender recognition (and with it, the rights any other woman would have) to this woman while she is still married, because this would create a true same-sex marriage and the legal system would disappear in a puff of logic. The government therefore presents this trans woman and her wife with an impossible choice to make; your marriage or your rights.

This trans woman was me, and I made that faustian bargain in 2009, surrendering my marriage of eight years and, after much bureaucracy, converting it to a civil partnership. I now bitterly regret doing that. We had both convinced ourselves that it was just paperwork, and didn’t really mean anything, but we were wrong. It hurt deeply, and it still does. We had a wonderful civil partnership ceremony with friends, but I wish I could take it all back.

The government is proposing to meet us, and those like us, part way here. We can, it proposes, convert our civil partnership back into a marriage, and in future those undergoing gender recognition will be allowed to do so while staying married. However, as proposed it won’t give me my original marriage back – it’ll just be recognised as far back as our civil partnership.

I think the government has it wrong here. This will create a “lost decade” of people, such as ourselves, who can’t have our original marriages recognised as same-sex marriages. Those coming after can have such recognition, even if they were married decades ago. There aren’t many of us in our position, but we do feel very strongly about being wronged by the unsatisfactory half measure of the 2004 and 2005 acts. If we don’t get our marriages back, many will continue to fight to have them reinstated.

I will say this in my response to the government’s consultation. My main fear is that there are so few of us that our voices will be drowned out by the cacophony of church-manufactured objection to any measure of LGBT marriage equality at all. Please do fill in the consultation, and even if you aren’t trans, please ask for the government to reinstate the marriages it confiscated. This injustice must end.

Sarah Brown tweets as @AuntySarah. Her Out4Marriage video can be found on YouTube here

More: equal marriage, gay marriage, marriage, marriage equality, Out4Marriage, Out4Marriage, Trans, transgendered

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