Gender Recognition Act

Facts

  • The Gender Recognition Act permits transsexuals to change their legal birth sex by obtaining a ‘gender recognition certificate’. The holders of a ‘gender recognition certificate’ were granted many legal rights, including the right to marry in their assumed sex – a man could legally become a woman and then marry another man.
  • The Act is contrary to key Christian doctrines (see Christian beliefs on transsexualism for more information).
  • The Act also makes it a criminal offence for anyone in an official capacity (including church leaders and Christian employers) to disclose the true sex of a person with a gender recognition certificate. The offence is punishable by a fine of up to £5,000.
  • The offence contained in the Act covers vicars, curates, church ministers, churchwardens, pastoral workers, elders, deacons and Parochial Church Council members. However, in March 2005, the Government agreed to bring in secondary legislation creating partial exemptions for church officials. The exemptions are overly bureaucratic but they do represent a major reversal of Government policy.
  • The Act allows a person with a Gender Recognition Certificate to marry. Thus, a man who has a ‘sex change’ operation could then marry another man or vice versa. From a Christian perspective, this is same-sex marriage. The Act only gives clergy in the Church of England and the Church in Wales the legal right to refuse to marry a transsexual.
  • The Scottish Government’s 2012 anti-sectarianism legislation protects people with any one of five different kinds of “gender identity” from offensive behaviour at, or in connection with, football matches (see Section 4 of the Offensive Behaviour in Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012).

Key arguments

  • The Gender Recognition Act represents a great threat to religious liberty.
  • Churches throughout the land teach that it is morally wrong for a man to assume the identity of a woman (or vice versa). Therefore if a transsexual wants to attend a church, the leaders of that church will obviously need to discuss between themselves the pastoral approach adopted. Just one pastoral discussion could be a criminal offence liable to a £5,000 fine.
  • Until March 2005 it appeared that the Government was content to see Christians prosecuted over this issue, even when the information was passed on accidentally. In 2004 a Government Minister in the House of Lords said: “…[in the case] of people who make a prohibited disclosure inadvertently, clearly that is a matter which the judge would be expected to take into account as part of the deliberations on sentence.”1
  • The Government argued, to use the above example, that the curate can ask the individual transsexual for permission to tell his vicar and, if the transsexual agrees, no offence is committed.2 Yet surely it is extremely unlikely that transsexuals would agree to this – they are the same people who argued for this new offence.
  • There are broader problems with the Gender Recognition Act. Before the Act was even passed, churches were already being threatened with legal action under it. For instance, it was used to argue that transsexuals have a right to teach in a Sunday school and take Holy Communion.
  • In 2002, long before the Act, the pastor and membership of Vine Christian Centre in Maesteg, South Wales, were sued after a man who had a ‘sex change’ was told he could not attend the ladies’ prayer meeting or use the ladies’ toilet. The church had shown considerable compassion towards the man (he had been attending for two years) but refused to treat him as a woman. The church’s lawyers argued under the existing law at the time (before the Act) – that the case should be thrown out. They succeeded although the Judge criticised the church and made them pay some of their own legal costs.
  • The Gender Recognition Act has now changed the legal landscape, making it much more costly and difficult for a church to defend itself. Such concerns have been confirmed in a legal opinion by an eminent barrister, James Dingemans QC.3
  • During the passage of the Bill through Parliament, the Government gave an exemption to sporting bodies from the effects of the Bill. If exemptions can be granted for some purposes, why can they not be made to protect religious liberty?
  1. 1House of Lords, Hansard, 3 February 2004, col. 659
  2. 2House of Lords, Hansard, 3 February 2004, col. 659
  3. 3More information on this issue, including the Dingemans Opinion, can be found at http://www.christian.org.uk/transsexualism/resources.htm