Tuesday, February 24, 1998 Published at 16:55 GMT
Britain 'discriminates against transsexuals'
The European Court of Human Rights
The British Government has been accused by two transsexuals of breaching their human rights by not recognising their new gender in law.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has begun hearing a case brought by Kristina Sheffield and Rachel Horsham, who were born as men but have undergone sex change operations.
While they can get passports and driving licences under their new gender, their birth certificates cannot be changed under British law and they say this infringes their rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence" but the pair say they cannot marry men as they wish to because the certificates still regard them as male.
They also claim they are discriminated against and embarrassed because they are forced to reveal their original sex when they have to produce their birth certificates, such as can happen when applying for insurance.
Gender "fixed at birth"
Their lawyers told the judges that British law fixes gender permanently on the basis of "biological indicators" existing at the time of birth and that this was unjustified on social, medical and biological grounds.
The government, however, argues that birth certificates are a record of a person's biological state at birth and are not affected by subsequent events.
It also believes that the Human Rights Convention does not require recognition of sexual identity.
The Human Rights Commission, which advises the court, has already decided by 15-1 that Britain is violating the convention, but this opinion is not legally binding. The court is not expected to make a decision for several months.
Child access denied to transsexuals
Ms Sheffield started treatment to change gender in 1986. She was married at the time and had to divorce before having sex-change surgery.
Her ex-wife successfully petitioned a court to stop Ms Sheffield having access to her daughter. As a result, she has not seen her child for 12 years.
Ms Horsham emigrated to the Netherlands in 1983 because that country recognises transsexuals and she now has a birth certificate in her new name and sex.
She wants to marry her male partner but says she fears the marriage will not be recognised under British law if she returns to live in the UK.