Lib Dem Baroness Barker: I regret that Parliament failed to make the marriage bill trans inclusive

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

Speaking to Diva magazine, gay Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Liz Barker says it’s wrong that trans people still require their spouse’s consent before they can have their gender legally recognised.

Many trans people and their allies are extremely disappointed that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for England and Wales has not removed the requirement.

Writing for earlier this month, Scottish Transgender Alliance Development Officer Nathan Gale explained: “It is intended to protect the spouses of trans people from finding themselves in legally same-sex marriages, particularly as some people may have deeply held objections to same-sex marriage.

“At first glance this may seem fairly reasonable. But trans people must have been living as the gender they identify as for at least two years before applying for gender recognition and so their marriage has been in effect a same-sex marriage for that time already.”

In an interview with Diva, Baroness Barker admitted it was a failure of Parliament to allow the requirement to continue. She said: “I was sorry that we weren’t able to include the trans spousal veto in the new legislation; we spent a lot of time with representatives from the trans community and I know that they are not happy with the issue they refer to as ‘spousal veto’.”The government’s view is that the legislation now permits people who have transitioned to remain within the marriage they were in before, honouring their relationship. But they didn’t agree on the spousal veto, so the issue remains to be addressed in the future.”

During June’s House of Lords same-sex marriage debate Baroness Barker made a speech in which she spoke of her love for another woman – revealing publicly for the first time that she’s gay and in a same-sex relationship.

“I’d thought about [coming out] for a long time and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Baroness Barker said. “I’ve been with my partner Caroline for many years but I’m not accustomed to speaking personally, I find that hard. So the speech I made in the House of Lords in June in support of the equal marriage bill wasn’t easy for me. I don’t think anyone fainted with surprise at the news but because I’d never talked about it publicly I think they were surprised I said it. That said, I’ve had an awful lot of people stopping me or writing to me saying they thought it was a brave and wonderful thing to do. I’m not sure how brave it was but I realise how important it is for people to know that there are some lesbian peers.”

She added: “I wish I could have [come out] earlier but I couldn’t and it was for the oldest reason in the book; my mum was just not able to cope with that so I’d always thought that when she wasn’t around to be hurt – she died about 18 months ago – that I would do it and that’s how it came about. I’m also deeply indebted to all the people who could have outed me in the past who didn’t. They have enabled me to do this at a time that was right for me and in a way that I think had a better impact for everybody.”

Diva is on sale now.