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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 12:08 GMT
Transsexuals 'win right to marry'
Elizabeth and Michael Bellinger
Elizabeth and Michael Bellinger's marriage is 'invalid'
Transsexuals are to be given the right to marry as part of government moves towards greater equality, according to reports.

The changes are also expected to give transsexuals the right to change their birth certificates and be legally recognised in their adopted gender.

Ministers will announce the changes over the next few weeks after their hand was forced by the European Court of Human Rights, the Guardian said.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said: "There will be an announcement on transsexuals imminently, the detail of which I am not able to go into at this stage."

The fact that they're waiting nearly six months since the Strasbourg decision is appalling

Stephen Whittle
Calling for a clear timetable for legislation a spokeswoman for transsexuals' campaign group Press for Change told BBC News Online: "We want it to happen now, not at some vague time in the future."

At present the UK stands alongside Albania, Andorra and the Irish Republic as the only countries in the Council of Europe not to recognise a sex change as legally valid.

European backing

The expected changes follow a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights in July.

Former bus driver Christine Goodwin, 65, and another woman known only as 'I' won backing for their separate fights to be legally recognised as women and the right to marry.

Both women also argued that their legal status in relation to employment, social security and pensions was unjust.

Under British law a woman can collect a state pension at 60, while a man must wait until he is 65.

The Strasbourg court's unanimous judgement held that the UK's failure to recognise her new identity in law breached her rights to privacy and marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Goodwin's solicitor Robin Lewis said the court had shown the UK law to fall "far short of the standards for human dignity and human freedom in the 21st century".

'Human problem'

News of the announcement also came a month before a transsexual was due to go to the House of Lords, to argue for the right to marry.

Stephen Whittle
The prospect of change was welcomed by Stephen Whittle
Elizabeth Bellinger, a 55-year-old male to female transsexual, was given permission to appeal after the High Court upheld a ruling that her 20 year marriage to Michael Bellinger was invalid.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division, said her case highlighted a "human problem", but Mrs Bellinger could not be recognised as a woman under existing laws.

Welcoming the expected changes Stephen Whittle of Press for Change said: "I'm really pleased they're finally doing it.

"The fact that they're waiting nearly six months since the Strasbourg decision is appalling."

The Press for Change spokeswoman said it was concerned that the government could allow the introduction of new laws to drift beyond the next election.

She said action was needed now for the thousands of people affected by their "ambiguous legal status", which can also lead to an array of problems including difficulties with employers and insurers.

Judgement

Although the Lord Chancellor's Department refused to confirm the changes to the law it pointed to a recent parliamentary answer given by minister Rosie Winterton.

Asked about the government's plans for implementing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Goodwin case she said a decision would be announced by the end of the year.

Last week the government announced plans to grant gay and lesbian partners many of the same rights as married couples.

The move was welcomed by MPs from all parties and pressure groups, but some religious groups said it was "very wrong".

See also:

04 Dec 02 | England
09 Jan 01 | Education
14 Aug 00 | Europe
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