After months of sometimes heated debate within the ruling left-wing, Spanish MPs on Thursday gave final approval to a law allowing people to freely change their gender from the age of 16, at a time when other European countries are holding back on this controversial subject.
The so-called 'transgender law', which is the battle horse of the radical left-wing party Podemos, an ally of the Socialists in Pedro Sánchez's government, allows people to change their gender on their identity papers by means of a simple administrative declaration from the age of 16.
Up to now, transgender people needed a medical diagnosis by several doctors of gender dysphoria, which is the psychological condition of feeling mismatched with one’s biological sex and gender identity.
They also had to prove that they had undergone hormone treatment for at least two years.
The bill - adopted by 191 votes to 60 with 91 abstentions - also extends this right to 14-16-year-olds, provided they are accompanied in the procedure by their legal guardians, and to 12-14-year-olds, if they get the green light from the court.
Spain thus joins the few countries in the world that allow gender self-determination via a simple declaration, following the example of Denmark, the first country to grant this right in Europe to transgender people in 2014.
"Today we have taken a giant step forward" by recognising the "free determination of gender identity", said Podemos Equality Minister Irene Montero.
Carla Antonelli, the first trans woman to serve as a Spanish lawmaker, called the vote "a historic day".
"We have always been on the right side of history and today justice has been done," she tweeted.
Siempre estuvimos en el lado correcto de la historia, hoy se ha hecho justicia, seguimos y proseguimos, celebramos y también reivindicamos en la lucha de todas las siglas. Día histórico en la casa de la representatividad de todas/os/es los españoles ✊🏳️⚧️ pic.twitter.com/jogltvWYUH
— Carla Antonelli / 🏳️⚧️☂️ (@CarlaAntonelli) February 16, 2023
The bill also sparked deep political divisions within the country’s left-wing coalition government, driving a wedge between activists in its powerful feminist lobby and LGBTQ+ rights campaigners.
Maria Jesus Moro, a member of the opposition Popular Party, made a last-minute appeal to lawmakers to vote against the law.
"We've all heard about countries backtracking because they now realise they were too hasty and it has caused a lot of suffering. Let's not go through the same thing," she said.
The legislation comes as other countries in Europe have started to backtrack when it comes to transgender rights and access to medical care.
Last year in Sweden, authorities limited access to hormonal therapy for minors except in very rare circumstances.
In France, the country’s Academy of Medicine called for “great medical caution” when it came to giving young patients hormonal treatment.
And the UK last month blocked Scotland’s gender recognition bill that would have allowed adults to change their gender markers through self-declaration if it was invoked.