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The UK government has blocked a Scottish bill that would make it easier for transgender people to change their legal gender, and for the first time is using its veto power to reignite the debate over trans rights and a legal standoff over political autonomy between to create them London and Edinburgh.
Alister Jack, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Scotland, told the UK Parliament on Tuesday that the proposed legislation would result in two separate gender recognition schemes in the UK and could lead to more fraudulent applications.
Westminster’s move sparked an immediate firestorm. Trans rights groups condemned the move and Scottish nationalist politicians branded Jack’s decision as undemocratic. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said her government is likely to challenge the veto in court.
Scotland – which has been part of the UK for more than 300 years – has its own elected government that controls matters like education and the judiciary, although London provides some funding for government spending and is responsible for issues like defence. Supporters of Scottish independence, including Sturgeon, have risen to prominence in recent years.
Here’s what you need to know about transgender rights in the UK and the possible consequences of the UK government’s decision.
What is Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill?
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation in December, with bipartisan support, that lowers the age – from 18 to 16 – at which people can apply for a gender recognition certificate.
The bill would also eliminate the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria — the sense of distress caused by a mismatch between assigned gender and gender identity — which can be costly and difficult to achieve. Applicants over 18 could be recognized as ‘acquired sex’ in Scotland after three months; 16 and 17 year olds would have to wait six months.
This is a change from the status quo, which requires applicants to submit two medical reports and live in their acquired gender for two years.
“Passed legislation would establish an easier and fairer path for trans men and women to be legally recognized for who they really are and allow them to live with the dignity we all deserve,” said Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans advocacy group in a statement.
Scotland is the 10th European country to have passed such legislation, which would bring it closer to regulations in US states such as New York, where applicants can have their gender identity legally recognized at the age of 17 and without the need for a medical diagnosis .
Scotland passes legislation making legal gender reassignment easier
Why is the topic so controversial?
As in the United States, transgender rights are part of a broader culture war between social conservatives and liberals. (Some left-leaning British feminists have also aligned themselves with the right on the issue.) Britain’s ruling Conservatives previously took a more liberal stance on the issue, but more recent leaders such as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have criticized some transgender campaigning efforts as “woke nonsense”. ”
Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, a non-profit organization that campaigns for trans people’s rights, called Tuesday’s decision “pretty ugly” and suggested the UK government is trying to use the issue to distract attention from domestic problems .
Opponents of the Scottish bill argue it could jeopardize the safety of women and children by giving men easier access to same-sex spaces such as bathrooms and changing rooms. Author and Scottish resident JK Rowling, who is one of the bill’s most influential critics, wrote in 2020 that the bill “actually means that all it takes for a man to ‘become a woman’ is to say he is a.” woman is”.
In reality, Scottish law would punish lying about gender identity on a petition with up to two years in prison. In the United States, transgender women are statistically more likely to be murdered than cisgender women.
UK support for transgender rights has been slowly declining of late, according to a 2022 YouGov poll. The poll found that while most Brits agree that people should be able to identify socially as a different gender, they disagree that it is becoming easier to legally recognize their own acquired gender.
American support for transgender rights has declined. Here’s why.
While Edinburgh has the right to legislate on gender issues, the UK government justified its intervention by saying the bill would have repercussions beyond Scotland. Jack said the legislation could affect equal pay laws and the way same-sex associations and clubs operate, and said Sturgeon could decide to change the law.
Jack invoked a section of the Scotland Act that allows London to veto Scottish laws affecting matters considered “reserved” for the British Parliament.
What are the policy implications for Scotland?
London’s decision to stop Scottish law could fuel secessionist sentiment further. Shona Robison, a Scottish pro-independence minister, said the move shows the UK government’s “contempt for decentralisation”. Sturgeon, the Scottish leader, suggested that London might try to similarly overrule Edinburgh on other issues.
The UK government could have taken less intrusive action, such as asking the UK Supreme Court to intervene if it felt Scotland had gone too far, lawyer Maugham said. He suggested that London instead choose a “nuclear option” which “represents a real degradation of respect for the capacity of the people of Scotland for self-determination”.
However, John Curtice, a politics professor at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University, said it was not clear there would be a boost to Scottish independence as public opinion there is divided on the issue of transgender rights.
Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill underwent two rounds of public consultations before it was taken up by lawmakers, signaling broad support for transgender people. But the picture is bleaker when people are asked about specific guidelines: A Sunday Times poll by Panelbase in December found that 55 per cent of Scottish respondents opposed the move to lower the age for legal gender changing.
The independence movement suffered a major blow in 2014 when 55 per cent of Scots voted to remain in the UK. But pro-independence advocates say the UK’s subsequent vote to leave the European Union, which was rejected by a majority of Scots, changed circumstances. The Supreme Court also ruled in November that Scotland cannot hold a referendum without London’s consent, and the UK government has repeatedly said it is opposed to a second vote for independence.