In June, Ireland’s cabinet announced that it had agreed to change a draft gender identity law first unveiled in December last year to remove a provision that would require a doctor to sign off before someone can change their legal gender. The final version approved just over a month later means Ireland will go from being one of the last countries in Europe to give trans people a way to change their legal gender to one of just five countries in the world where someone can make their change simply by filing a declaration.
“At the core of it is self determination, not requiring a third party to tell you who you are,” said Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) Director Broden Giambrone in a June interview with BuzzFeed News. Argentina, Denmark, Colombia, and Malta are the only other western countries with gender identity laws that allow people to change their legal gender through simple self-declaration.
The legislation now heads to the Irish president, who is expected to sign it and it should go into effect by the end of the summer.
Until the marriage referendum passed, Giambrone said, government had balked at calls for the removal of the medical requirement. But the international praise Ireland has gotten since becoming the first country in the world to establish marriage equality by popular vote seems to have push the government into a more full-throated support of LGBT rights.
“Ireland is being celebrated across the Western world for the marriage referendum,” Giambrone said. “I think there was some thinking, ‘Why shouldn’t we do the same for our trans community?’”
The marriage referendum also had a direct impact on removing another provision of the gender identity proposal opposed by trans activists. As originally drafted, the bill would force anyone who was married at the time they sought to change their legal gender to divorce because there was no provision for same-sex marriage in Ireland. But that will no longer be the case if the amended bill becomes law.
There are still several steps that the law must clear before it becomes law, and Giambrone cautioned that “the devil is in the details.” The cabinet has not yet released a written version of the revised bill, and it must be formally amended in a parliamentary committee set to meet later this month.
But Giambrone said there was little doubt the bill will become law if the cabinet’s proposals live up to the commitment made this week. When it was debated in the Irish senate in February, Giambrone said they were struck by widespread support for improving the gender identity law.
“What’s been really phenomenal in this whole process is that we have yet to run into any rejection of the bill going through and [have found broad support] towards making it more progressive,” Giambrone said.
If Ireland passes the amended law, it will follow in the footsteps of Malta. Malta shares Ireland’s history as a country where the Catholic Church has historically held tremendous power, and it passed a gender identity law in April that trans activists now hold up as the gold standard in Europe. In addition to allowing people to change their legal gender by simple self-declaration, the law also has unprecedented protections for intersex people who are born with anatomy that is not clearly male nor female.
The Irish proposal is not as far reaching as Malta’s; most troubling to Irish trans activists is that people under 18 would still have to go through a complicated process to change their legal gender. But just adopting a provision to allow adults to change their legal gender through self-declaration could send a very strong signal to the rest of Europe, said Richard Koehler of Transgender Europe.
“It shows countries like Germany their place,” said Koehler. “It says you think your progressive, but actually you’re not.”
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