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Government misses clear opportunity to bring Gender Recognition Act into the modern day

24 March 2022

Westminster ‘unwilling to take simple steps’ to reform the Gender Recognition Act, but ‘some movement in the right direction’, says Select Committee Chair, as Government responds to GRA Reform report.

The Government has rejected calls to urgently update 18-year-old legislation determining how legal gender is changed in England. In a December 2021 report from the Women and Equalities Committee, cross-party MPs called for reform to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, with the Committee's Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, stating that the Act was 'crying out for modernisation'. In its response to the report, the Government has rejected a number of key recommendations made by the Committee, which were based on evidence heard from number of stakeholders including both trans rights and women's rights groups. However, the response suggested that there were some areas where Government is willing to bring about change, including the spousal consent provision.  

The Committee has today written to Equalities Minister Mike Freer, requesting clarity on the Government's suggestion that changes will be made to the spousal consent provision contained within the 2004 Act. This provision requires married applicants to acquire the consent of their spouse in order to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate. 84.9% of respondents to the Government’s 2018 consultation did not agree with this provision. While the Government does not accept the Committee’s recommendation to remove the spousal consent requirement, it states that its Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 - which will come into force later this year- will ‘reduce conflict’ on the provision. In a recent Westminster Hall debate on the Gender Recognition Act, Minister Freer stated that the Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 “will remove what is known as spousal veto”. The Committee has invited Minister Freer to appear before the Committee to discuss the Government’s response to its report, as well as other important issues including the upcoming LGBT Conference.

Some of the other key changes the Government’s response to the Committee touched upon included:  

  • While the Government has made the welcome decision to cease referring to gender dysphoria as a 'disorder', stating that 'being transgender is not a mental illness', it remains steadfast in its belief that the requirement for a diagnosis of 'gender dysphoria' is 'appropriate'. This is despite strong evidence taken by the Committee which supported de-medicalising the process and moving closer to a system of self-declaration.  
  • The Committee's report called for the removal of the current requirement for trans people to have lived in their acquired gender for two years- which, says the report, 'risks entrenching outdated and unacceptable gender stereotypes'. The Government has given no indication that it will rethink its stance, believing it appropriate that an applicant should give evidence of having 'for example, changed their name or title'.  
  • The Government have committed to updating the Committee annually on the progress of its gender identity pilot clinics and the impact they are having on waiting times for those hoping to undergo gender reassignment, as called for in the report. The Committee look forward to receiving these statistics. 
  • The Government has said it will take forward work on the experiences of people with variations in sex characteristics.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said:  

"In December, after over a year of consultation with a wide range of voices, we called on the Government to enact real, meaningful change to the gender recognition process. Its response makes clear that it is not prepared to go anywhere near far enough, but there is some movement in the right direction.    

"Moving closer to a system of self-declaration and away from the currently over-medicalised process of gender transition would have given transgender people the dignity and respect they deserve. I am disappointed that the Government is unwilling to take simple steps- such as the removal of the requirement to live as a stereotype in an acquired gender, or the requirement for a 'gender dysphoria' diagnosis- to move the GRA into the modern day.  

"We will monitor the progress of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill with interest. Other parts of the UK are moving forward- Westminster needs to do the same. I hope that the small admissions made by the Government in its response indicate that further reform will come- albeit at a far slower pace than is right."    

Further background

The initial Government consultation on the 2004 Gender Recognition Act Consultation ran from 3 July to 22 October 2018.  

It published its response on 22 September 2020.   

The Women and Equalities Committee opened its inquiry in October 2020  and received over 2000 pieces of written evidence, as well as hearing from a range of witnesses during 6 oral evidence sessions between December 2020 and June 2021.   

Its report was published on 21 December 2021. 

Further information

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