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.
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?
(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
Don Horrocks, how significant do you think it is?
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.
What about this point, Stephen Whittle,
that you saw made in the report, in fact by
Don Horrocks, that chromosomally,
you have not changed?
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
But you don't have the Y chromosome, do you?
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.
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?
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.
But why does it matter so much to you?
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
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
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.
Stephen Whittle, what do you make
of those arguments?
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.
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?
That's according to the law as it stands,
And that you believe to be
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
But that would be a heterosexual marriage by
If Stephen were married to the same biological sex,
it would be a same-sex marriage.
Yes, but he wouldn't be if he
married a man, would he, by your
As a woman, no, he wouldn't.
Thank you. Stephanie Harrison, let's look at
the implications of this. Clearly, the
British law is going to have to
(Human Rights Lawyer)
Without a doubt.
Beyond that, what about looking at
questions that have just been
raised here - same-sex marriages?
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
What else might follow?
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.
What, then, would you imagine - how do we go
forward from here? The British Government then
has to start doing what?
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.
Stephen Whittle, what's the most
urgent thing that should be
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
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?
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.
Doesn't he have a right
to that privacy?
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
You have already told us it would be quite in
order for this chap with a beard to marry
That's as the law stands, as it is. He cannot
marry someone of the same biological
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.