I rise to make a contribution on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 that is before this house.
I regard this as a difficult bill.
It is a complex issue.
I found it very interesting to hear members from both sides articulate their views on the legislation.
Many of the speeches have been detailed, well considered and very respectful.
I bring to this debate some of my own experiences and knowledge. When I commenced legal practice, the legislation I dealt with was very clear about gender — it was male or female. Over the years I have seen many amendments to the legislation, including to the Family Law Act 1975. The inclusion of de facto relationships and ultimately same-sex relationships within the jurisdiction of the Family Court were really significant changes at the time they occurred, and they reflected the wider changes occurring in society.
Over the years the Family Court has also become involved in gender issues, and there have been a number of cases where the court has been asked to make decisions in the best interests of children in relation to their access to treatments and ultimately in relation to the gender of those children. While I was not personally involved in those cases, they were certainly a part of an area of the law in which I practised, and I was always interested to hear, on an ongoing educational basis as a family lawyer, about those situations, because there were people in my community who could have needed my services as a family lawyer in relation to those sorts of things.
There have been many changes to the law over time. Some of them have been trailblazing and gradually society has changed its attitudes to deal with them, while others actually reflect social change that has already taken place. Society has always tended to adapt to those changes. I note recent media reports in my electorate of Shepparton which praise Shepparton as a place for its acceptance of transgender teenagers. A BuzzFeed article published in July says that the City of Greater Shepparton stands out for its LGBTI community, describing it as a tight-knit, highly organised and, perhaps most remarkably, visible part of our community. Support groups have gone from being predominantly for gay and lesbian youth to transgender youth.
This bill amends the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 to enable transgender, gender diverse and intersex adults and children to alter the record of their sex in their Victorian birth registration without having to undergo sex affirmation surgery or be unmarried.
In preparing to speak on this bill I consulted with Dr Michelle Telfer, a specialist with the Gender Service Team at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Dr Telfer is someone I have known for a long time. She undertook some of her early years of training in Shepparton with my husband, Dr Peter Eastaugh, a general paediatrician. We shared many nights at the dinner table, having conversations about many things. Part of the strategy of professionals living in the country is to always try to attract, wherever we can, young professionals to come back to our community.
We were delighted when we heard that Michelle was going to specialise in paediatrics herself. She has developed an area of expertise and knowledge in which she is well recognised. So when she tells me that it is extremely important for young people to have their identity acknowledged as being valid and legitimate, I accept her experience and expertise in having formed such a view. Michelle has seen hundreds of young people in her practice at the Royal Children’s Hospital. She pointed out that it is illegal for young people under 18 to undergo gender-changing surgery and that it is often not desirable for a child, or indeed anyone, to undergo that surgery.
This bill removes the need for sex affirmation surgery as a prerequisite for altering the record of a person’s sex in the register of births, deaths and marriages. This follows recommendations made by the Australian Human Rights Commission and changes made federally in relation to the recognition of sex and gender in the maintenance of personal records in all Australian government departments. For instance, under federal law passports can be changed to one’s preferred gender. Indeed Dr Telford tells me that she recommends that young people do this, as travelling to foreign countries can often cause trouble for people who may not look like the gender of the person recorded on their passport. They can often be subjected to questioning and physical examination. A Medicare card can state the gender nominated by the holder of the card.
This bill also removes the current requirement for a person to be unmarried in order to make an application to alter the record of their sex in their birth registration.
We have been moving in the direction of acceptance of diverse gender identities for some time. The High Court of Australia’s decision in 2014 in the case of NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v. Norrie upheld the rights of a transgender person to be registered as neither a man nor a woman within the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. While in that case the person in question had undergone a sex affirmation procedure, they did not consider that it had resolved their sexual ambiguity. The justices of the High Court noted in their judgement:
Not all human beings can be classified by sex as either male or female.
When new laws are passed there are always issues raised about what may arise as a detrimental impact of those laws. There have been some possible impacts raised in relation to this legislation, particularly arising from the apparent ease with which a nomination of gender can be made and later changed.
In considering many of the decisions that I make in my life, I try to put myself in the shoes of the other person and think about what it must be like for them. In the case of legislation such as this, I have reflected on how I would feel as a mother of a young transgender person. For so many parents there must be pain and grief associated with knowing the difficulties your child will face as a transgender person. Acceptance of the circumstances you are faced with as a parent and the desire, more than anything, for your child to be accepted for who they are and to not suffer because of who they are will be a dominating factor. For all of these reasons I have determined that I will support the bill before this house.