Gender recognition reform in Scotland: What is the SNP’s new law aiming to change?

The Bill has passed from stage one of the legislative process to stage two (David Cheskin/PA Wire)
The Bill has passed from stage one of the legislative process to stage two (David Cheskin/PA Wire)

The discussion about changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) of 2004 has sparked fierce debate between trans rights activists and “gender-critical” campaigners.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill would change how people go about obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), something the Scottish National Party pledged to do to bring Scotland “in line with international best practice”.

MSPs voted on the Bill in Holyrood on October 27 and it passed with 88 in favour and 33 against. Here’s what you need to know about the Bill and what it will mean for people in Scotland.

What is a Gender Recognition Certificate?

GRCs should be applied for if a person wants their affirmed gender (sometimes called an “acquired gender”) to be legally recognised in the UK. This is common for trans people, who identify as a gender different from the one they were born with.

Having a certificate means you can:

  • update your birth or adoption certificate if it was registered in the UK

  • get married or form a civil partnership in your affirmed gender

  • update your marriage or civil partnership certificate if it was registered in the UK

  • have your affirmed gender on your death certificate when you die

However, it will not change your legal status as the father or mother of a child.

What changes are being proposed to the GRA?

The Bill, first laid out in 2004, covers:

  • who can apply for a GRC

  • how to make an application

  • the grounds on which an application is to be granted

It also makes provision about:

  • different types of GRC that may be issued in different circumstances (“full” GRCs and “interim” GRCs)

  • appeals and reviews of decisions to grant (or not grant) GRCs

  • revocation of a GRC and offences in connection with false information being provided in an application

The proposed changes would remove the need for trans people to require a psychological examination and diagnosis for gender dysphoria before being able to have their gender recognised in law. This would signal a move to a self-identification model, reflecting the practices of several countries around the world such as Ireland and France.

Where does the debate stem from?

Misinformation about what the Bill aims to do has led to toxic debate, with opposing groups such as For Women Scotland and the Scottish Conservatives claiming this change would put women’s rights at risk and will affect the use of single-sex spaces. There are also fears over how this could affect the development of trans children.

However, a GRC does not have any impact on use of communal or gendered public spaces, such as bathrooms.

Stonewall addressed the concerns flagged by opposition groups, saying: “This [Bill] will not affect trans people’s existing rights relating to single-sex services (such as toilets and changing rooms). Under the Equality Act 2010, trans people can use services matching their gender, except in very restricted individual circumstances – this announcement won’t change that.

“Separately, NHS England have announced that an independent review will take place into how Gender Identity Development Services, which provide support to trans children and young people, can be improved.”