British Government Vetoes Scottish Gender Bill

On Jan. 16, the British government vetoed a gender recognition bill that the Scottish Parliament approved that would have made it easier for people to change their legal gender. This is the first time in Scottish Law that the UK invoked its right to block a bill using the authority of a statute known as the Scotland Act of 1998. Under this act, the government in London can block laws that affect issues that fall under the purview of the British government. 

The Scottish bill, passed in December of 2022, would have made Scotland the first nation of the UK to back a self-identification process for changing an individual’s gender. The veto has sparked greater conflict between transgender rights advocates, the nationalist Scottish administration in Edinburgh, and the British Government. 

Under the current system, trans people must provide a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria — a condition defined by the distress caused by the discrepancy between a person’s body and their gender identity — and prove that they’ve been living as their expressed gender for a minimum of two years. They also need to be at least 18 years old. The new rules would exchange the medical diagnosis requirement with a self-determination process. The 2-year wait time would reduce to six months and the age limit would lower from 18 to 16.

Many human rights and equality organizations welcomed the new rules, pointing to a growing number of democratic countries where self-determination is the norm. The Equality Network, a leading Scottish LGBTIA+ rights group, said that “after years of increasingly public prejudice against trans people, things have started to move forward.” 

Prominent voices such as J.K. Rowling spoke in opposition to the Scottish Law. Rowling and other opponents of the bill argued it would weaken the protection of spaces designed to make women feel safe, such as women-only shelters. The Scottish government rejected that argument, saying the law didn’t change the rules on who can and cannot access single-sex spaces. It also said that experiences from countries that made similar changes have shown no adverse impact on other groups.

On Monday afternoon, Alister Jack, the British government’s secretary of state for Scotland said, “After thorough and careful consideration of all the relative advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.”

(Sources: BBC, CNN, NBC, NY Times, Reuters)

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