Controversial gender recognition reform passed by MSPs in Scotland
MSPs have voted to pass controversial gender legislation that allows transgender people to self-identify.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill passed by 86 votes to 39 on Thursday and will remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC).
It also lowers the minimum age for applicants to 16 and drops the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – six for those aged 16 and 17 – though with a three-month reflection period.
MSPs embarked on intense debate on the Bill this week, spending more than 24 hours on the consideration of amendments and final vote.
The passage was marred by protests, as opponents of the legislation interrupted proceedings as Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison brought the debate to a close, and another shouted “shame on you” from the public gallery after the final vote.
Opponents of the legislation have questioned its potential impact on women and girls, particularly in relation to single-sex spaces, though the Scottish Government has insisted little will change.
The new law has caused rebellions across the chamber, with SNP MSPs announcing before the vote they would defy the whip, while Scottish Conservative Jamie Greene dissented from his party’s view, although the Tories were given a free vote on the issue.
It is also understood some Labour opponents to the Bill were allowed to miss the vote.
But the passage of the Bill does not clear its path to the statute book, with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack now able to legally challenge the law if he believes it impacts on the UK, while private groups are also able to take legal action should they wish.
UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has raised concerns about the impact of the Bill on the rest of the country.
In a statement after the final vote, Mr Jack said the UK Government would consider taking it to the Supreme Court.
“We share the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this Bill, and in particular the safety issues for women and children,” he said.
“We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK-wide legislation, in the coming weeks – up to and including a Section 35 order stopping the Bill going for Royal Assent if necessary
Speaking in the final debate on the Bill on Thursday, Ms Robison (pictured) said: “Every party in this chamber except one made a clear commitment to the reforms set out in this Bill at the last Scottish election, and at the one before that it was all parties.
“Members from all parties in this chamber voted to support the general principles of the Bill at stage one.
“At this final stage, I urge all members to vote in favour of these important reforms and for the Bill, I move the motion in my name.
“Trans rights are not in competition with women’s rights, and as so often before, we can improve things for everyone when those discriminated against act as allies, not opponents.”
But Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton said the Bill “has shown this Parliament at its worst”.
She added: “In the rush to make the process a little easier for trans people, the Government is making it easier for criminal men to attack women. That’s the problem here.”
Ms Hamilton said the Bill – which she claimed would be a “legacy issue for the First Minister” – would “let criminal men exploit the system” and put women at risk in single-sex spaces.
The Equality Act features exemptions for single-sex spaces where trans people can be excluded in certain circumstances – exemptions Ms Robison has said will not change.
Ms Hamilton went on to claim that “society as a whole” is at risk from the Bill, adding: “While most of us across Scotland are good, decent, reasonable people, rapists are not, sex offenders are not, it is ignorant in the extreme to believe that they will not take advantage of loopholes that are ripe for exploitation.”
Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy said the legislation provides MSPs with “one of those rare moments… where we all have a real opportunity to improve lives and directly tackle inequality”.
She said the Bill will help “society to accept them (trans people) and to support them to be their best selves, without barriers or additional costs or medicalisation”.
She insisted: “I believe strongly the reform we will vote for today has been a long time coming, and that is why changing the current onerous, lengthy and invasive process of legal gender recognition has always been so important to me.”
MSPs spent 24 hours this week debating it after two marathon sessions considering amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday – with the latter finishing at 1.15am on Thursday.
The Tories have been accused of an attempt to filibuster the legislation, proposing numerous points of order and forcing almost all amendments to votes that were sometimes not required.
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed after lengthy debates at Holyrood, often amid divisive political rhetoric.
It has been discussed for years, with strong opinions for and against changing the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
Here are some of the key points, and what comes next.
What does the Bill do?
The main element of the Bill is to make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) by removing the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
It will also lower the minimum age for applicants from 18 to 16 and drop the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – six for people aged 16 and 17 – though with a subsequent, three-month reflection period.
What changes have been made?
The Bill has been amended as it moved through Holyrood.
At stage two, it was announced 16- and 17-year-olds would need to live in their acquired gender for six months rather than three before applying for a GRC.
It was also announced there will be new statutory aggravation to the offence of making a fraudulent application for a GRC.
At stage three, MSPs backed a change tabled by SNP MSP Gillian Martin which means anyone subject to a sexual harm prevention order or sexual offences prevention order will not be allowed to seek a GRC.
What do its supporters say?
Campaigners in favour of the Bill say a move to make trans peoples’ lives easier is long overdue.
A group of LGBT+ groups recently issued a joint letter saying the Bill is a “historic opportunity to continue Scotland’s journey towards full social and legal equality”.
They disagree that an expansion of trans peoples’ rights comes at the expense of women’s rights, saying the Bill will have little impact outside the trans community.
Nicola Sturgeon, whose government launched the Bill, said the current system of medical diagnoses was “intrusive, traumatic and dehumanising”.
What do opponents say?
Those in opposition to the Bill say it will impact the safety of women and single-sex spaces.
They say there are insufficient safeguards to protect women and girls from predatory men, raising concerns about environments like women’s prisons.
Protests inside and outside the Scottish Parliament have called on MSPs to vote down the Bill.
Some oppose the Bill on religious grounds, saying it will blur the distinction between men and women.
How have politicians reacted?
Unusually in Scottish politics, opposition to the Bill has cut across party lines.
In October, the SNP’s Ash Regan dramatically quit the government in protest at the Bill, as nine of the party’s MSPs either abstained or voted against stage one of the Bill.
Others in the SNP, like MP Joanna Cherry, have had longstanding opposition to the process of gender recognition reform.
Most Conservative MSPs are opposed to the Bill, with exceptions being Jamie Greene and Dr Sandesh Gulhane.
Scottish Labour are largely in favour, but some MSPs appear to have been in the opposition camp during debates on the amendments.
Scottish Green and Lib Dem MSPs are in favour of the new law.
What comes next?
Once the Bill has passed at Holyrood, attention will turn to how the UK Government reacts.
This is because UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has said she has concerns about legal divergence between Scotland the rest of the UK.
Any dispute between the two governments could end up in court. In the absence of any challenge, the Bill would receive royal assent, and become law.
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