British government blocks Scottish gender change law

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Jan. 16 (UPI) — For the first time, the British government has blocked a Scottish law over a new measure that would make it easier for people to change their legal gender.

U.K. ministers announced Monday that they would block Scotland’s draft legislation because it conflicts with equality protections throughout the United Kingdom. It is the first time London’s parliament has overruled Scotland, using a 25-year-old statute which allows the U.K. government to stop Scottish bills from becoming laws in specific cases.

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The Scottish Parliament passed the gender recognition reform bill last month, which removed the previous requirement of a gender dysphoria diagnosis before receiving a gender recognition certificate. The bill, which relies on self determination over a medical diagnosis, would also allow people as young as 16 to apply for the certificates.

Under the previous rules, adults had to live with their gender identity for two years before applying for a certificate. Scotland’s new measure reduced that timeframe to three months for adults and six months for 17- and 18-year-olds.

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British government leaders argue Scotland’s new law violates the equalities legislation that applies across the United Kingdom in that it treats people differently depending on where they live.

“After thorough and careful considerations of all the relative advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation,” Alister Jack, the British government’s secretary of state for Scotland, said in a statement Monday.

“Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding,” Jack added. “My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.”

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, who proposed the legislation six years ago, said Scotland’s government plans to defend the legislation. She called London’s move a “full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters,” Sturgeon tweeted Monday. “If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be the first of many.”

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The increased tensions between Britain and Scotland over the gender recognition reform bill could escalate tensions over the issue of Scottish independence. Since Scotland’s last referendum for independence in 2014, that lost 55% to 45%, the United Kingdom has left the European Union with Brexit and has turned down Scotland’s request for a second independence referendum.

While the British government reiterated its belief that blocking Scotland’s legislation is the “necessary and correct course of action,” Jack said he hopes the two governments can find some common ground moving forward.

“If the Scottish government chooses to bring an amended bill back for reconsideration in the Scottish Parliament, I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of U.K. Parliament legislation.”