The UK government has blocked a new law designed to allow transgender people in Scotland to change their legal gender without a medical diagnosis – a controversial move that has fueled the already highly emotional debate over Scottish independence.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack announced on Monday that Westminster took the highly unusual step to prevent the Scots Act from becoming law as it was concerned about its impact on equality laws across the UK.
Here’s what you need to know:
Scotland passed a new law in December to make it easier for people to change their legal sex.
Under the current system, transgender people have to jump through a number of hoops to change the gender marker in their documents. They must have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria – a condition defined by the distress caused by the discrepancy between a person’s body and their gender identity – and prove they have been living in their chosen gender for two years. They must also be at least 18 years old.
The new rules would drop the required medical diagnosis and move instead to self-determination. The waiting period will be reduced from two years to six months and the age limit will be lowered to 16 years.
Campaigners have long argued that the current process is too bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive. The Scottish Government held two major public consultations on the issue and proposed the new, simpler rules.
“We believe that transgender people should not go through a process that can be humiliating, intrusive, upsetting and stressful in order to be legally recognized in their lived gender,” the government said when it proposed the new rules.
In the end, an overwhelming majority of Scottish legislators voted in favor of the change – the final tally was 86 in favour, 39 against.
The bill provoked emotional reactions on both sides. The debate on the proposal was one of the longest and most heated in the history of the Scottish Parliament and the final vote had to be postponed after it was interrupted by protesters shouting “shame on you” to lawmakers.
Many human rights and equality organizations and campaigners welcomed the new rules, pointing to a growing number of democratic countries where self-determination is the norm.
The Equality Network, a leading Scottish LGBTI rights group, said that “after years of rising public prejudice against transgender people, things have moved forward.”
But the bill has also received huge criticism, including from “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling, who said the bill could have a detrimental effect on the rights of women and girls.
Rowling and other opponents of the bill argue the new rules will weaken protections for spaces designed to make women feel safe, such as women-only shelters.
The Scottish Government has rejected that argument, saying the law does not change rules about who can and can’t access segregated sex areas. It also said experiences from countries that have made similar changes have not had a detrimental effect on other groups.
Campaigners agreed. “There are no downsides,” said campaign group Stonewall. “For example, when Ireland did it, no one else was affected except transgender people who for the first time could have their gender recognized by the state in a simple and powerful way.”
Scotland has a devolved government, which means that many, but not all, decisions are made in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.
The Scots can pass their own laws on matters such as health care, education and the environment, while the British parliament at Westminster remains responsible for matters such as defence, national security, migration and foreign policy.
The UK Government can prevent Scottish Bills from becoming law, but only in a few very specific cases – for example if it believes that the Scottish Bill would be incompatible with international agreements, with the interests of defense and national security, or if it it is believed that the bill would conflict with a UK law on the subject which falls outside Scotland’s jurisdiction.
Under the rules governing how Scotland is governed, London has four weeks to review a bill after it is passed by Holyrood, after which it is sent to the King for royal assent, the final formal step before it is passed. becomes law. .
The issue is highly controversial as tensions between London and Edinburgh over the issue of Scottish independence are already high.
When Scotland last held a referendum in 2014, voters rejected the prospect of independence by 55% to 45%.
However, things have changed since then, especially with Brexit.
People in Scotland voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum and the pro-independence Scottish National Party has argued that Scots were being dragged out of the European Union against their will, pushing for a new independence vote.
The British government has said it will not agree to a new independence vote, and the British Supreme Court ruled in November that the Scottish government cannot unilaterally hold a second independence referendum.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.