Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by UK Intersex Association (MB 07)

Submission Summary:

· The UK Intersex Association writes to express concern as to what the legislation will mean for physically Intersex people.

· Not all Intersex people identify with the binary model of ‘male’ or ‘female’

· If intersex people wish to marry will they have to conform to a specific gender?

· How will legislation framed for ‘same sex’ couples benefit or deprive Intersex people?

I write to the Public Bill Committee as the Director of the UK Intersex Association (UKIA). UKIA is a research, education and advocacy organisation which works on behalf of intersexed people and their families in the UK. We are also engaged in supporting our overseas Associates who provide social/medical care and advice to individuals with an intersex condition and their families.

The attention of the Committee is drawn to the fact that society has long underestimated the population figures relating to those born with an intersex condition, but using the lowest estimate there are at least 30,000 intersex people living in the UK at the present time.

For one group of intersex people whose identity was ambiguous at birth, the physical ambiguity has, in many cases prompted surgical intervention to reassign (for instance) an XY infant (genotypically male) to a female role or (less often) an XX (genotypically female) infant to a male role. Research has shown that such a radical intervention in defining a child’s social gender role is fraught with difficulty and mistakes can be made. A percentage of these ‘socially engineered’ children when they reach maturity, transition to the gender role opposite to the sex they were assigned to. This mirrors the route that is followed by transsexual people. In cases such as this, there is a belief amongst administrators and legislators that the social implications of such a procedure can later be resolved if necessary, by changing the birth certification on grounds that the sex of the child was misdiagnosed at birth.

In-practice however, it is extraordinarily difficult for such individuals to negotiate their way through the labyrinth of regulations that will lead to a revised definition of sex and the gender role associated with this. In most cases, intersex people are required to travel the same path as transsexual people with all the attendant complexity of psychometric evaluations; social assessments; provision of medical reports leading to hormone therapy and in some cases, the long wait for surgery.

There are many factors, both physical and psychological that determine and influence gender identity and its outward expression in societies throughout the world. UKIA’s concern is centred on those often ‘hidden’ individuals who have a medically recognised congenital condition of ‘intersex’ and stand to lose or gain by the forthcoming legislation.

For some, the issues that their congenital condition creates, followed by reassignment surgery in infancy are unbearable and can only be resolved via medical intervention and transition back to their true identity. The Intersex individuals who transition could therefore fit into a binary model of male/female and if the legislation regarding same sex marriage becomes law, benefit from the same legislation covering homosexual and transsexual people. However, the focus of our current concern with regard to intersex people is what thought, if any, has been given to those individuals who do not identify as male or female. ‘Intersex’ is a term which usually describes a physical condition, but increasingly it is used by some individuals to define their gender identity.

One could argue that legislation to allow same sex marriage would automatically cover all bases. However, we are concerned that this may not quite work out as straightforwardly as supposed. It may mean that someone who refuses to identify as male or female does ‘not fit’ the legislation and could find themselves forced to choose a binary-based gender role if they wish to marry.

As the Liberal Democrat councillor and transgender rights campaigner Sarah Brown said: "The lack of marriage equality historically has created a huge legislative mess for trans people. We have to end our existing relationships if we want official recognition of our gender and anyone who doesn't identify as either male or female has to lie when getting married. The current laws presume that gender is a binary and there are no people who identify outside 'man' or ‘woman".

Despite UKIA submitting a detailed document to the GERBIL Committee and the subsequent legislation in 2004, experience has shown that the intersex community was not included. Intersex individuals are still (in 2013) unable to change their birth certificate, which has caused considerable social and emotional problems.

The fact that an organisation as large and active as UKIA has not been consulted in the current debate on same sex marriage may be indicative of either a lack of awareness of intersex people or the fact that no one has considered that some intersex people do not fit into a male/female binary model. UKIA requests that any forthcoming legislation relating to same sex marriage be inclusive of intersex people who do not conform to an identity based on a gender binary.

February 2013

Prepared 15th February 2013