Trans Notes from a Small Island: Smooth Transitioning Within Marriage

Island of Jersy

The States of Jersey lodged a proposal this week regarding introducing same-sex marriage in Jersey. This is a document that outlines the issues for debate and where the proposer, our Chief Minister Senator Ian Gorst, stands on the issue. You can read the whole proposal here.

The proposal is wide ranging as Senator Gorst and his team have looked at all aspects of marriage from what spouses are called in a marriage, to how couples get divorced and how the state can ease this process to make it less painful, to what constitutes grounds for divorce, to parental responsibility, to what to do with civil partnerships now same-sex marriage is on its way, to improving the rights of co-habiting couples, to revising our archaic taxation laws where a wife is still viewed as an adjunct of her husband.

It is a big piece of work that will have consequences for many aspects of our legislation. As a consequence, same-sex marriage legislation is not likely to be in force until 2017 here. However, most people agree that the wait will be worth it if they can sort out a number of inequalities in the law at the same time.

As far as the island’s trans community is concerned, the proposal is good news. There are two specific points addressed by it.

The first is that the Scottish model for same-sex marriage is the preferred option. This means that when someone in an existing marriage or civil partnership wishes to transition, at the point that they change their gender legally, their marriage or civil partnership will seamlessly convert to a same-sex marriage or an opposite-sex marriage, depending on which is appropriate to the trans person’s recognised gender. Couples may elect to have a civil service at that point if they wish, or not.

In the legislation of England and Wales a nasty piece of law called the “spousal veto” enables the spouse of a trans person to stop them gaining their Gender Recognition Certificate (the means by which a trans person’s gender is recognised legally for all purposes in Jersey and the UK). This in turn would stop the conversion of the marriage from opposite-sex to same-sex marriage (or vice versa). You can find out more about the spousal veto in this excellent paper on the subject by Zoe Kirk-Robinson here.

A trans friend in England has just started the process of getting her Gender Recognition Certificate (“GRC”). She wrote to me this week describing sitting with her wife and solicitor – he did not know she was trans until that meeting – as her wife signed the spousal veto. They both found the process humiliating. Thankfully, this is not something that Jersey trans people and their spouse will have to endure due to the proposal lodged this week.

The second item of interest in the proposal is the requirement to revise Jersey’s own gender recognition laws. At present, the law requires us, if we want to change our gender legally, to get a GRC from an approved jurisdiction. In practice, this is usually the UK.

Being a small island, Jersey has no gender therapists in practice. (We all have to go off the island for our treatment. Again, this is usually to the UK.) Jersey, therefore, took the decision in 2010 when it passed its Gender Recognition law that it should abdicate its responsibility to decide whether a person can have a GRC to another jurisdiction who had the expertise to decide such matters. Once a person has a GRC from an approved jurisdiction, it is then registered in the Royal Court of the island.

Roll on five years and the prospect of same-sex marriage with no spousal veto means that Jersey legislation will be more advanced than that of England and Wales and mean that their Gender Recognition laws no longer suit Jersey’s requirement for a seamless transition when someone transitions within a marriage or civil partnership.

Trans* Jersey are hoping that, for once, having no gender therapists in the island, who can be called upon as experts on our genders, will work to our advantage and mean that we will be allowed self-declare our gender to the Royal Court to have it legally recognised. Watch this space to see how we get on with persuading our government that self-declaration of our gender is no more harmful to us or society than the self-declaration that happens when we change our names by deed poll.

More trans notes from a small island next month…

Born in London, Vic Tanner Davy now lives in the Channel Islands. When not working in an office crunching numbers, Vic is a writer of LGBT fiction.

Vic’s first novel, Black Art, featured Arty Shaw, the world’s first female-to-male transgender detective. It was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ top 100 books of 2012. Vic’s second novel, A Very Civil Wedding, was a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Fiction: GLBT). Vic's third novel, The Hystery App, is out now.

Vic has an MBA from the University of Durham and is a member of the Institute of Fundraising. Vic is also the founder of Trans* Jersey, a not-for-profit group formed to support trans* residents in the island of Jersey (Channel Islands).

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