Comment: Why we must repeal the spousal veto

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Writing for PinkNews on IDAHOT, Tory councillor Zoe Kirk-Robinson calls for the spousal veto to be removed from marriage legislation in the UK.

This year’s IDAHOT comes at the six month anniversary of people with civil partnerships being able to convert to same sex marriages. Without a doubt, same sex marriage was one of the crown-ing achievements of the Conservative-led Coalition Government. It would be nice to have been able to call this achievement the introduction of equal marriage rights but, sadly, there is still one lingering problem.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 introduced a new concept to English law (one that thankfully Scotland saw sense and removed) whereby one person can veto another person’s rights. The 2013 Act brought in the Spousal Veto, a hateful piece of legislation that prevents a trans person who is in an existing marriage or civil partnership from being able to receive legal rec-ognition of their gender without the express written consent of their spouse.

This may not seem too great a problem to many – after all, if a couple are going to stay together through one spouse’s transition, surely it’s just a formality to sign a piece of paper when the time comes? That is of course missing the point. In an ideal world there would be no problem and the non-transitioning spouse would simply sign the papers then hey presto, it’s all over with.

But we don’t live in an ideal world – and even if we did, there would still be no adequate reason why the non-transitioning spouse should hold a right of veto over their partner’s gender recognition. No spouse who has stood by their partner through transition has come forward to say they welcome the Spousal Veto. Instead, many have spoken out against it.

The consensus amongst spouses who are supportive of their partner’s transition is that the transi-tion process is for their spouse and their spouse alone. So if this veto is not welcomed by those who wish to stand by their transitioning partners, who is it for? To answer that, we must take a look at the bad side of transition.

When the Spousal Veto was first uncovered by former Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown, I put to-gether a survey of trans people in the UK who had undergone, or were undergoing, transition while married or civil partnered. The purpose of this survey was to find out just how many people had found problems with their spouse’s reactions to transition. The results (available at were not good.

Less than half the respondents to the survey reported that their spouses were accepting of their transition in the long term, with relationships ending at the point that the trans partner came out in just over 7% of cases. What this means is that we do not live in anything close to the ideal situation where a person would simply sign their consent to their partner receiving a GRC.

Divorce is common amongst trans people who choose to transition. Over 40% of spouses have actively attempted to prevent their partner transitioning while over 28% have made divorce as diffi-cult as possible. The Spousal Veto gives these problematic spouses another weapon to use against their partners.

In total, 46% of trans people with children are unable to see their children. Over 15% are denied access to their children even when a court order is in place granting them visitation rights. Spouses who ignore court orders are not going to sign a consent form for their transitioning spouse.

When almost fifty percent of spouses cause trouble or attempt to prevent their partner’s transition, it is ludicrous to expect that they will grant consent for their partner to receive a Gender Recogni-tion Certificate. This legislation plays right into the hands of vindictive spouses and those who can’t bear to see the person they married change.

The most damning thing of all is how the Spousal Veto is set out. It is supposedly a consent to the conversion of a straight marriage to a same sex marriage, or vice-versa – but we have already seen that many partnerships end in divorce and of those that don’t, the non-transitioning partners are against the Spousal Veto. If a person is going through divorce, where is the logic in asking them to consent to the continuation of a marriage they are already in the process of dissolving?

The Spousal Veto is a ludicrous piece of anti-trans legislation, brought in by the influence of civil servants. As Paula Dooley of GIRES said at the time the same sex marriage Act was being de-bated, “[the Spousal Veto] has been introduced by civil servants/junior ministers ‘role playing’ and working out how they would feel if they were in a similar position.”

We do not need legislation that has been drafted as a result of civil servants and junior ministers playing a game of make believe. The Conservative Party, by introducing same sex marriage to the UK, has already shown it is forward-thinking and on the side of equality. Now we need to finish the job by removing this stupid, hurtful piece of legislation before it does any more damage to already vulnerable people.

Zoe Kirk-Robinson is a Tory councillor in Westhoughton North and Chew Moor, and an LGBT activist. She tweets at @ZoeKirkRobinson.

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