The Australian state of Queensland struck down a law this week requiring trans people to divorce their spouses before their gender identity is recognized by the government.
In a near-unanimous decision, its Parliament voted on Wednesday to repeal the draconian law, a remnant of the pre-marriage equality era. Because same-sex unions were banned prior to Australia’s contentious November 2017 postal vote, government officials felt allowing trans people to remain married after their transition would violate national marriage law.
Members of Parliament elected to overturn the decades-old policy by an overwhelming margin of 86 to 4.
The proposal was widely supported by officials in the Liberal National Party (LNP) and the Australian Greens, but a representative of the Katter’s Australian Party claimed the political group opposed the changes based on a “consistent ideological position.”
“This is a continued attack on traditional values and we want to represent the traditional views,” party leader Rob Katter told press.
Aside from the few conservative holdouts, the move was widely viewed as “long overdue.” Calling the policy “unjust and unfair,” Queensland Attorney General Yvette D’Ath hoped that “delivering this reform will go some way to helping the transgender community to live their lives openly and without judgment.”
“[T]he state would have liked to have done this earlier—to see that passed is just another step forward in getting true equality in our community,” D’Ath said.
Kristine Johnson, secretary for the Australian Transgender Support Association of Queensland (ATSAQ), told members of the media this week that the parliamentary vote was the “best news ever.” Previously, trans Queenslanders were forced to choose between the full recognition of their gender identity and the person they love.
“We have 500 members and it effects about half of us,” Johnson claimed.
Roz Dickson, a transgender woman in Brisbane who has been unable to change her birth certificate since marrying 28 years ago, said the law was a slap in the face to a population that already endures extreme obstacles to living as their fullest selves.
“To have reached the end of the journey and have this concrete wall in front of me that you have to do something, and stop supporting your wife and risk breaking up your family because I have got two children aged 10 and 14—just because the law says so—was extremely disheartening,” Dickson told reporters.
“I have always felt like a woman even though it took me many years to transition,” she added.
These outdated policies, however, have long been on the books in many Australian states. After 61.6 percent of Australians voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry in last year’s national plebiscite, the governments of New South Wales and Victoria have overturned similar restrictions on recognizing trans identities.
But Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy at Melbourne’s Human Rights Law Center, claimed this week’s vote is just the start. Northern Territory, Tasmania, and Western Australia still mandate forced divorces for transgender people.
Meanwhile, Queensland is one of six states in Australia that forces trans people to undergo full gender reassignment surgery before their gender marker is changed.
“We need a complete overhaul of these outdated laws to ensure, for example, that trans people do not have to undergo invasive and unnecessary surgeries simply to be recognised as the gender they live as,” Brown told members of the press.
The Australian state also moved this week to expunge convictions of gay men prosecuted under defunct laws criminalizing sodomy, a decision first announced in October.
Homosexuality was legalized in Queensland 27 years ago.