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EDITIONS
Friday, 12 July, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Transsexual Rights
European Court of Human Rights
Transsexual Rights

The British government has been denying basic human rights to two women who were born male.

The seventeen judges of the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that the two transsexuals are entitled both to costs and compensation.

Campaigners for transsexual rights say those who break their birth's invidious bar will now press on with demands that the laws in this country be changed to recognise changed realities.

Liz MacKean reported.


Jeremy Paxman discussed whether the law should be changed with a Barrister, a transsexual and a representative of the Evangelical Alliance.

Jeremy Paxman:
We are joined now in the studio by Stephanie Harrison, who is a human rights lawyer. From Manchester by Stephen Whittle, of the campaign group Press For Change and also in the studio by Don Horrocks, whom you saw in that report, of the Evangelical Alliance. Stephen Whittle, how significant is this ruling?

Stephen Whittle:
(Press For Change campaigner)
This is an amazing change in British law. We are going to actually see, finally, transsexual people get the opportunity to have their real lives recognised, and for people like me to actually live our lives to the full, and particularly for the families of transsexual people, to provide them with security and safety from protection in the future.

Jeremy Paxman:
Don Horrocks, how significant do you think it is?

Don Horrocks:
(Evangelical Alliance)
I think it's potentially very significant indeed, yes. We have to examine what impact this will have on British law and what the British Government will do, but potentially it could be very significant indeed.

Jeremy Paxman:
What about this point, Stephen Whittle, that you saw made in the report, in fact by Don Horrocks, that chromosomally, you have not changed?

Stephen Whittle:
Of course, nowadays, there is a greater understanding of the complexities of the human body, and chromosomes are a very poor guide to who people are.

Jeremy Paxman:
But you don't have the Y chromosome, do you?

Stephen Whittle:
No, but there are many women, for example, androgen-insensitive women, who have got a Y chromosome but are recognised as women in law and have an inter-sex condition.

Jeremy Paxman:
Your disapproval of this ruling was abundant in that piece and it is abundant now. How do you propose that someone like Stephen Whittle live his life?

Don Horrocks:
I am not here to make judgements against people. I am concerned with questions of fact. As far as the Evangelical Alliance and all religious organisations are concerned, is that this has to do with the question of what takes precedence - does subjective feeling take precedence, or does physiological fact? I am afraid that there is so much mythology, just as Stephen has just confused intersex with what we call gender confusion there, that surrounds this whole debate, that we are concerned that, in this judgement from the European Court of Human Rights, there was an actual admission that they hadn't looked at the facts.

Jeremy Paxman:
But why does it matter so much to you?

Don Horrocks:
It matters because, whilst we would fight to the nth degree for the rights of people like Stephen to have human dignity, for freedom, for the ability to obtain pensions, employment rights and so on, yet the rights of other people are also affected if this goes into British law.

Jeremy Paxman:
How?

Don Horrocks:
In a number of ways. The whole host of people are affected. For example, what about the rights of families? It is well known that, when transsexual people declare themselves, families are usually split apart. What about the rights of religious bodies? For example, whose consciences may be totally contraverted by having to accept what they regard as illusion as truth.

Jeremy Paxman:
Religious bodies?

Don Horrocks:
Religious bodies, yes. But what about plain common sense? A lot of people have an instinctive awareness of what defines our gender. Our concern is that the traditional understanding of gender could be rewritten.

Jeremy Paxman:
Stephen Whittle, what do you make of those arguments?

Stephen Whittle:
I have heard those arguments endlessly. The fact is that we are now in the 21st century, and one of the things I would say to Don is in fact, in plain legal terms, we have won this battle, they have lost this battle, and that's tough. The law has to change now. Thank God it does. I take my children to church where the family is fully accepted by many Christian people, who are very happy to see a family who are living their lives fully.

Jeremy Paxman:
The implication of your belief presumably is that this chap you see sitting in the studio in Manchester, with a beard, might be allowed to marry in church, but could only marry a man?

Don Horrocks:
That's according to the law as it stands, yes.

Jeremy Paxman:
And that you believe to be right?

Don Horrocks:
As the law stands at the present, we believe to be right. If it was to change and birth certificates were to be amended, same-sex marriage would be possible, which all religious groups would be fundamentally against.

Jeremy Paxman:
But that would be a heterosexual marriage by your definition?

Don Horrocks:
If Stephen were married to the same biological sex, it would be a same-sex marriage.

Jeremy Paxman:
Yes, but he wouldn't be if he married a man, would he, by your definition?

Don Horrocks:
As a woman, no, he wouldn't.

Jeremy Paxman:
Thank you. Stephanie Harrison, let's look at the implications of this. Clearly, the British law is going to have to change?

Stephanie Harrison:
(Human Rights Lawyer)
Without a doubt.

Jeremy Paxman:
Beyond that, what about looking at questions that have just been raised here - same-sex marriages?

Stephanie Harrison:
I think that the importance of this ruling is that it does give priority to an individual's right to self-determination, to a personal identity, to develop relationships in accordance with their own views and values, and same-sex marriages would follow from that.

Jeremy Paxman:
What else might follow?

Stephanie Harrison:
Well, I think that, generally, the most important thing is that transsexuals won't be discriminated in front of the law. They will have respect for their personal identities and the dignity that they should be accorded to. That's the most important aspect of this judgment. Whatever follows, we will have to see, but it shouldn't be underestimated what a landmark ruling it is.

Jeremy Paxman:
What, then, would you imagine - how do we go forward from here? The British Government then has to start doing what?

Stephanie Harrison:
The British Government started after an earlier judgment of the European Court in 1998 to have an interdepartmental review, which has already reported. That's sitting there. It's been sitting there with nothing happening for over a year. It will now have to look at those recommendations and find a way to amend the birth register to reflect the person's current identity.

Jeremy Paxman:
Stephen Whittle, what's the most urgent thing that should be addressed?

Stephen Whittle:
I think certainly the right to privacy that comes with the amendment of birth certificates, but also the right to marry, for example. My family and my children don't have a legal father at the moment. They should be able to have that, and have the security that comes with that.

Jeremy Paxman:
Just help me with this question of the right to privacy. The problem being that, in order to get certain kinds of employment or to get a passport, or whatever you need to produce a birth certificate, you are disclosing something about yourself that you prefer not to?

Stephen Whittle:
Indeed. To apply for a passport, to apply for car insurance in many places, if I apply for a Government post or many jobs, I would need to show my birth certificate, and that birth certificate certainly doesn't reflect who I am.

Jeremy Paxman:
Doesn't he have a right to that privacy?

Don Horrocks:
I think he does, but also others have a right to know. For example, the minister of a religious organisation, faced with two people to marry, if they are the same biological sex, they will have birth certificates that show they are different.

Jeremy Paxman:
You have already told us it would be quite in order for this chap with a beard to marry another man?

Don Horrocks:
That's as the law stands, as it is. He cannot marry someone of the same biological gender.

Jeremy Paxman:
OK. Thank you all very much.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Liz Mackean
"Thursday's ruling does not overide UK law, it sets a precedent"
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