Changing sex on birth certificates: Both sides of the debate

The Government's decision to halt a proposed law for changing sex on birth certificates has stoked reactions from both sides of the spectrum. 

Under the proposed law, people would be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate based on how they identify themselves - removing the need for medical evidence of a gender change. 

But Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said on Monday the public needs more input before the Government can move on the bill, which had self-identification clauses added to it at Select Committee. 

The NZ First MP said it would be a substantial change from the current Family Court process that requires evidence of medical treatment before sex can be changed on a birth certificate, hence the Government's decision to put the brakes on the bill. 

"There are also wider legal implications of changing to a self-identification system that need further consideration. The Crown Law Office have provided advice that the self-identification clauses would benefit from clarification."

The news came as a shock to the transgender and non-binary communities, with human rights researcher and transgender man Jack Byrne telling RNZ it was "challenging and rolling back existing rights in New Zealand".  

New Zealand First MP and Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin says the public needs more input before the Government can move on the BDMRR bill.
New Zealand First MP and Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin says the public needs more input before the Government can move on the BDMRR bill. Photo credit: Newshub

The Government's confidence and supply partner, the Green Party, also expressed disappointment to see the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR) delayed after going through the Select Committee process.

"We unequivocally support our trans, non-binary and other rainbow communities," Jan Logie, Green Party spokesperson on rainbow issues, said on Tuesday. 

"The proposed amendments to correcting a person's birth certificate are in line with what already happens for passports and driver licences. They represent a small, procedural change that would make a huge difference in the lives of some of our most marginalised people."

Advocacy group Gender Minorities Aotearoa says the required medical evidence and Family Court process can be difficult and expensive for transgender people.  

The group reflected Ms Logie's comment that the process as it stands is out of line with the current policy on passports and driver licenses, which only require a statutory declaration to change the gender marker on them. 

To change the gender identity on a New Zealand driver licenses, you need only apply to the NZ Transport Agency or change it when it's time to replace your licence. It's more freedom than many countries provide. 

Ms Martin acknowledged the difficulty transgender people face in changing the sex on their birth certificates, admitting there are barriers preventing them from doing so including fees, and the costs of obtaining medical evidence or legal representation.

However she did highlight circumstances where the issue of changing a person's official sex can present issues. For example, enrolment in single-sex schools would need to be looked at, as would access to services at women's refuges and the criminal justice system.

A Gender Minorities Aotearoa poster promoting the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR) .
A Gender Minorities Aotearoa poster promoting the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR) . Photo credit: Gender Minorities Aotearoa

Gender Minorities Aotearoa argues that women only places do not currently require birth certificates to enter, and there is "no credible evidence suggesting elevated levels of sexual violence as a result of similar legislation passing in other countries".

But opposition to the change remains strong. Anti-transgender activists often referred to as TERFs or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, reject the idea that trans-women can claim womanhood and therefore be included in women's rights activism.

Other activists have claimed that allowing trans people to self-identify - even if they have not had reassignment surgery or taken hormones - will lead to men invading women's spaces under the guise of 'identifying as a woman'.

Family First New Zealand, a conservative Christian lobby group, expressed support over the Government's decision to halt the law change, with national director Bob McCosckrie saying: "For politicians and the state to be manipulating birth certificates in these ways is deeply concerning."

He pointed to the Department of Internal Affairs' definition of a birth certificate, which says it's an "official document containing registered information about a person's birth as at the date of issue".  

"A birth certificate is a historical record based on fact - not a political tool to further an ideology," Mr McCosckrie said.  

Ms Martin said she plans to engage with stakeholders to see how the process of changing sex on birth certificates can be improved. 

Newshub.

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