What is Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill?

Protests in support of and against the Bill have taken place (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)
Protests in support of and against the Bill have taken place (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Deputy First Minister of Scotland Shona Robison has revealed that the Scottish Government has taken the "difficult decision" to decide not to appeal the court ruling that sustained the UK Government's prohibition on proposed gender reforms.

Following the Court of Session's dismissal of an appeal against Westminster's decision to override MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) and scrap the Gender Self-Identification Bill last week, the PA news agency has learned that the Government will forgo any other legal challenges.

On Wednesday afternoon (December 20), social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville will address the Scottish Parliament.

The goal of the act was to make it easier for transgender individuals to change their legally accepted sex and get a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

However, the UK Government determined that it may negatively affect the country's equalities laws.

In order to stop the bill from receiving royal assent, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack invoked a section 35 order of the Scotland Act for the first time in the history of devolution.

In Scotland, there has been a contentious discussion surrounding gender reform. Opponents argue that it could jeopardise the rights and safety of women and girls, while supporters, such as the Scottish Government, describe it as a minor clerical adjustment that will only impact a small portion of the trans community.

After Holyrood passed the gender-change legislation last year, the UK Government blocked the move using a Section 35 order to stop the bill from receiving royal assent and becoming law.

Many have been celebrating the reform for empowering transgender people to have fewer roadblocks on their gender-change journey.

However, some, including Harry Potter author JK Rowling, believe that the reform makes girls and women less safe in places such as women’s bathrooms and changing rooms.

JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter and other popular books (Yui Mok / PA)
JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter and other popular books (Yui Mok / PA)

In response, the Scottish government has insisted that the new legislation will not affect the Equality Act, which allows trans people to be excluded from single-sex spaces.

Here’s an extensive look at Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

What is Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill?

For the past 17 years, those who wished to change their gender on a birth certificate had to abide by the criteria set out in the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

This required them to obtain a gender-recognition certificate before they could change gender.

The current requirements for this ask the applicant to:

  • Be aged 18 or over.

  • Have a medical report confirming a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which the NHS describes as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity”.

  • Get a second medical report detailing any treatment received in relation to the diagnosis, such as hormone therapy.

  • Show evidence of living as the acquired gender for two years.

  • Give an oath of intention to live in the acquired gender until death.

  • Get the approval of a UK Government-appointed panel of two members, one legal and one medical.

Scotland’s new bill would have removed some hurdles, which it said would have ensured a quicker and easier process for applicants.

The changes it proposed were:

  • The age limit for applications would be cut from 18 to 16.

  • The applicant would no longer be required to have medical reports, including a gender-dysphoria diagnosis.

  • The applicants would have to live in their acquired gender for only three months, instead of the current two years (six months for 16- and 17-year-olds).

  • A three-month “reflection period” would have been introduced before the applicant was given their certificate.

  • The applications would have been handled by the registrar general for Scotland instead of the UK panel.

The changes would have meant the gender laws in Scotland would have been different from those in the rest of the UK.