Dáil debates

Friday, 9 May 2014

Report on the General Scheme of the Gender Recognition Bill 2013: Motion


12:35 pm

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Broadly speaking, I support the recommendations of the committee, as they make a great deal of sense, and I appreciate the approach taken by the Department in handing this issue over to the committee for debate. The committee debated the issues at length, interviewed various people and came up with recommendations, and I welcome that. However, that exercise will be meaningless unless the recommendations of the committee are substantially reflected in the final legislation presented to the House.

On the question of age, this seems to be a matter that has yet to be discussed by the Cabinet. As the proposal stands currently, people are excluded from applying for a gender identity certificate until they reach the age of 18. This flies in face of the evidence. Significant research shows that for most people, gender identity is formed between the ages of three and five.

A study compiled in the United Kingdom recently indicates that only 4% of people who changed gender arrived at the realisation that their birth certificates reflected the wrong gender at the age of 18 or over. The study also highlights the fact that 76% of respondents were aware that they were transgender before they had left primary school. That means that there is going to be a huge gap in people realising that their birth gender does not reflect reality. We are all aware of the difficulties individuals can encounter as a result of this and the fact that they live in a legal limbo. There is ample evidence to show that if one's outward manifestation of a particular gender does not coincide with the gender registered on one's birth certificate, problems can arise. The time constraints do not allow me to outline the nature of these problems, but they are well rehearsed in the representations received from the representative organisation. The transcript of the High Court case of S. v. the Adoption Board in 2009 provides a clear indication of the difficulties people such as those to whom I refer can encounter.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh drafted legislation which stated the parents or guardians of people under the age of 18 years should be able to apply on their behalf to have their registered genders changed. The difficulty I foresee in this regard is that if, in the case of a minor, a parent or guardian does the wrong thing for some reason, problems will arise. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Parliamentary Counsel to include the appropriate protections in the proposed legislation. There is international precedent in respect of situations of this nature. The committee's recommendation to the effect that the age at which a person can make his or her own application should be reduced from 18 years to 16 is worthy of serious consideration by both the Department and the Cabinet, particularly in view of the evidence.

I welcome the changes announced by the Minister in respect of evidence of identity. She stated the self-declaration must be accompanied by a letter of validation from a person's primary physician. She also stated the legislation would specify the type of medical practitioner who was required to supply the supporting letter. My concern in this regard is that physicians and family doctors vary in their approach to these matters. Some family doctors take quite a conservative view and might, as a result of their own beliefs, refuse to provide the requisite letter. The Minister seemed to suggest that in such instances people could consult psychiatrists, etc., but she also referred to their consulting their primary physician. Will she clarify whether this will be the family doctor if he or she is the primary physician? I still object to the notion that medical intervention is necessary. What is contained in the proposed legislation represents great progress from the requirement to obtain a diagnosis to the effect that a person seeking to change gender has a mental defect. The approach seems to be to make matters as simple as possible by ensuring the medical letter will be something of a formality. I welcome this development, but I wonder what will be the value of the letter in the wider scheme of things. Will the Minister indicate whether someone who has a problem with his or her family doctor will be able to go elsewhere?

On the requirement to divorce or separate, the relevant head, as drafted, states that if a person who is married and changes gender seeks to acquire a gender identity certificate, he or she will be obliged to divorce in order to obtain it. The head also states those in civil partnerships will be obliged to take the appropriate steps to dissolve them in order to obtain such certificates. The Minister earlier stated a person who acquired a gender identity certificate would be able to enter into a civil partnership with a person of the same sex. Does that mean that the relevant head will be amended? In other words, will it now be the case that those who are in civil partnerships and change gender and want to acquire gender identity certificates will not be obliged to dissolve these partnerships? Their being made to dissolve them is illogical, particularly in view of what the Minister has proposed.


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