The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

In a blow to equality, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that it is legal for governments to force married transgender people to divorce if they want to legally change their gender identity.

Thursday’s verdict concerned the case of transgender Finnish citizen Heli Hämäläinen (currently legally registered as male), who has been happily married to her wife, both Christian believers, for 18 years. Together they have a 12 year-old child.

Hämäläinen’s wish to be officially recognised as female was rejected by the Finnish authorities because same-sex marriage is not legal in the country. This means that she would have to get divorced or convert her marriage into a registered partnership, something which she has refused to do for religious reasons, in order to be acknowledged as a woman.

The group Transgender Europe (TE) said the ruling will force Hämäläinen to explain being trans in many everyday situations and will expose her to a higher risk of discrimination.

TE added that it is “highly disappointed that the highest human rights court in Europe missed this opportunity to protect trans persons’ human rights.”

The same scenario could be faced by transgender married people in 20 European states, it noted.

The court argued that a registered partnership provides “almost identical… legal protection” and implies only “minor differences” compared to marriage.

TE said that “this is regrettable as it means…  trans people [have] to give up one human right in exchange for another: the right to be and remain married versus the right to obtain legal gender recognition.”

A dissenting option by three judges agreed that it “is highly problematic to pit two human rights… against each other”, and said that they “are unable to agree with the majority’s finding that the applicant has several acceptable options.”

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that European countries did not have to grant same-sex couples the right to marry as this is not a human right.

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