Families Against Forced Divorce: To protect the privacy of our children and our spouses, we feel we are unable to publicly put our names to this article.
In a country where divorce was illegal twenty years ago, is it about to be made compulsory for some? Imagine being told that the State will not legally recognise your identity unless you first divorce your husband or wife. This is not some nightmare scenario from the Nazi 1930s. It’s all too real and about to be inflicted on transgender families in Ireland today.
Ireland remains the last of the 27 EU Nations which still does not allow Gender Recognition for transgender people. This lack of legal recognition of our true gender has many important implications for our lives. First and foremost is the lack of being respected and protected in Irish law in our true gender which impacts on every corner of our lives.
Without such protection, difficulties can arise in our jobs, pensions, insurance, foreign travel and even our ability to engage in most sporting activities to the point that we simply cannot participate at all. For example, to play ladies golf you must be recognised by the State as a woman. Or, what do you think your chances of getting a job would be if you are “outed” as a transgender person in the process? Only with full Gender Recognition can we hope to move on with our lives.
Marriages where one spouse is transgender are lucky to survive. Let us look at one example: Sandra and Michelle. Sandra suffered from Gender Identity Disorder and always felt female despite the fact that she had a functioning male body.
At the time Sandra married Michelle in 1990, she was endeavouring to be the “man” that society expected her to be. Their marriage is fully valid under Irish Law as at the time of getting married they were physically and legally opposite genders. They went on to have two children, Mark and Kathy. Over the years, things changed for Sandra and Michelle and due to a worsening of her medical condition and, acting on medical advice, Sandra underwent full gender reassignment surgeries: she is now physically female.
Wider society has little understanding of gender identity issues; and the pressure of maintaining a marriage in such circumstances often is too great. Yet, despite the cards being stacked against them, Sandra and Michelle managed to maintain and strengthen the love in their relationship and family. And now having adjusted they are being told that the strength of their commitment to their marriage vows is a hindrance to Sandra’s human right to recognition. Now, their marriage is under threat from Government, who will withhold Sandra’s basic human right to recognition unless their marriage is ended.
We all have similar stories.
Our Government is finally preparing legislation for Gender Recognition following the unequivocal High Court ruling in the 15 year-long case brought by Dr Lydia Foy that the Irish State’s refusal to grant gender recognition was in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The legislation to be enacted is based on the recommendations of the Gender Recognition Advisory Group (GRAG) report released a year ago.
Imagine the furore that would erupt if the Government formed a committee to report on how women might access their human rights but only appointed men to that committee? Yet, no member of the GRAG was transgender, or even experienced in transgender issues. And our absence is evident. Among many of its ill thought out recommendations, their report clearly states that people in an existing valid marriage be excluded.
Legal recognition should not be contingent on the destruction of our marriages and families, a position supported by both Thomas Hammarberg and Mary Robinson.
The Government will most likely argue that it has an obligation under Article 41(1) of our Constitution to defend and protect the family. We agree. The Government may also argue that this involves the prohibition of same sex marriages. But we did not contract same sex marriages! What of our families? Does the Government have no obligations to us and are our familes not also entitled to the full protection of the Irish Constitution?
Why should anyone be forced to choose between their family and their human rights? We put forth that the Government’s requirement to divorce is itself unconstitutional as the State fails to meet its obligations by making such a demand of any citizen. Indeed, divorce may not even be possible in our circumstances as we will be unable to satisfy the courts that there has been an irreconcilable breakdown of our marriages, a key requirement under Irish law.
In times of deep economic hardship the chance for the Government to do something good at no cost is an opportunity to be seized. At a time when Ireland is seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council, leading Europe in progressive gender recognition legislation is an easy win. We have sought meetings to discuss these issues with Minister Burton and her officials so that she might fully understand the impact on us and on the lives of our spouses and children. Thus far we are still waiting to be heard.
If Government chooses to listen to the voices of the transgender community and see the inhumanity inherent in forced divorce in order for us to achieve gender recognition, there is a very real opportunity to put Ireland at the forefront of progressive legislation which empowers all its citizens. We and our families live in hope.