In Depth

Non-binary: does the UK recognise a third gender?

A Dutch court has urged lawmakers to recognise those who do not want to register as either male or female

A court in the Netherlands has advised lawmakers to officially acknowledge a “third gender” after ruling that a Dutch citizen was allowed to register as neither a man nor a woman.

The Limburg District Court in Roermond ruled that the unnamed plaintiff could be recorded in the Dutch birth register as ‘gender undetermined’ as opposed to male or female, reports The Daily Telegraph.

“At birth in 1961, this person’s gender could not be determined and the parents decided to register the person as male, to make things easier at the time,” the court said.

In 2001, the plaintiff underwent medical treatment and changed gender to female.

“Eventually it also turned out that the female gender did not fit the person, whose personality is experienced as gender-neutral,” the court said. This meant “feeling neither like a man nor a woman”.

Due to “social and legal developments, the time is ripe for the recognition of a third gender”, the judges said. A legal amendment was crucial, they added, to enable the registration of a third gender ‘X’.

What is non-binary?

The term describes any gender identity that does not fit the male and female binary.

This can include but is not limited to: transsexuals (those who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth); intersex people (those whose reproductive organs cannot be identified as simply male or female) and transgender people (those who identify as another gender but do not undergo medical procedures to change their reproductive organs).

Does the UK recognise non-binary individuals in law?

The title Mx instead of Mr or Mrs is widely accepted in the UK by government organisations and businesses as an alternative for non-binary people, but UK law only recognises male and female genders.

People can legally change their documented sex – but only to male or female. Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, applicants have to be over 18, diagnosed with gender dysphoria, have lived for at least two years in their acquired gender and “intend to live permanently in their acquired gender until death”.

In 2016, the House of Commons’s women and equalities committee said the government must look into creating a legal category for people with a non-binary gender identity. In response, the Ministry of Justice announced in July 2017 that it would initiate a public consultation. This has since stalled.

At the end of last year, the Scottish government released a consultation paper proposing “a legally recognised third gender” for people who do not identify as male or female, reports The Independent.

What are the laws in other countries?

At the end of last year, Germany became the latest country to recognise a third gender for intersex people.

They are already recognised on official documents in Australia, India, New Zealand, Nepal and the US, where the first intersex birth certificate was issued in 2016, reports the BBC.

In May 2017, France’s top appeals court ruled against offering a “neutral” gender designation to a 66-year-old psychotherapist born with neither a penis nor a vagina and officially registered as a man.

The French court said the distinction between male and female was a cornerstone of social and legal organisation, and that recognising a third gender would involve “numerous legislative changes”, the New York Times reported.

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