One Step Forward

Germany’s new self-identification law is huge progress but advocates have noticed some issues

Four decades of German law that created an onerous process for legal gender transition are finally coming to an end. But while the new self-identification law is a welcome change, trans rights activists have raised concerns that it still falls behind similar legislation in other countries.

The German Cabinet passed the Self-Determination Act on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. It will replace the current “transsexual law” requiring a court order and two assessments from experts “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” to approve gender changes on legal documents. Other provisions of the law requiring divorce, surgery, and sterilization have previously been struck down in German courts.

“Imagine that you … simply want to live your life and you don’t wish anyone anything bad, and then you’re questioned about what your sexual fantasies are, what underwear you wear and similar things,” explained Justice Minister Marco Buschmann on the German news program ZDF. “Those affected have found this questioning very degrading. Now we simply want to make life a bit easier for a small group for which it has great significance.”

The new law will allow adults to go straight to the registry office to change their gender on legal identification. The current wording comes with some caveats—mandating a three month waiting period and permitting no additional changes for at least a year. Minors are required to obtain parental permission, but those fourteen years or older may seek a court order if permission is denied.

Regarding the restrictions for minors, Buschmann said he was “firmly convinced that the overwhelming majority of parents will ask themselves very seriously and carefully: what is the best thing for my child?”

While the bill has been heralded as a major step forward, European and Central Asian trans rights organization TGEU has highlighted “concerning points” in the legislation. The organization published a full list of requested changes on their website.

“This law would mark a historic shift, but there are still problematic clauses,” TGEU wrote on social media. In addition to the waiting period and the parental barriers for minors, the law includes provisions that permit officials to deny refugees legal gender changes. This is largely a result of unfounded right wing claims that refugees will abuse the system.

“Parliament can still change the bill before it is adopted. We call on [the] German Parliament to carefully listen to trans people [and] lawmakers to look to other countries with self determination for evidence,” the group concluded.

Now that the law has passed the German Cabinet, it is headed to the chamber of federal states for debate. It is expected to reach Parliament later this year, where it will be subject to additional revision.

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