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The spousal consent clause in the GRA – an important protection for women

UK Labour has indicated that it wishes to remove the spousal exit route clause from the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). It claims that the clause gives the right for a spouse to block a partner from being awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This is a misunderstanding, as no such veto is possible. The requirement simply enables a proper ending to the contract that one party wishes to change.

Marriage and civil partnership are contracts between two people, and as with any contract, the terms of the contract cannot be changed by only one of the parties.  If consent is not given by a spouse, an interim GRC will be granted.  To give an idea of figures, in 2020/21 in the UK – 466 applications were made, only 33 were by married people, with just 9 interim GRC’s awarded.  In 21/22 there were 6.

 

The interim award simply allows for the marriage/civil partnership to be annulled or for the couple to divorce before a full GRC can be granted. There is no evidence that people with an interim GRC, (for example the 9 applicants awarded one in 2020/21), do not progress to the full GRC in due course.

An interim GRC is also automatic grounds for annulment. For many people from religious and other communities where divorce, or the transformation of a heterosexual partnership contract to a same-sex one, is not acceptable, annulment is an essential route.  Someone in this situation may have been unwilling/unable to apply for a divorce at an earlier point in their partner’s transitioning process.  Annulment entails the same negotiations as a divorce in relation to financial and property matters, and children’s futures (custody, financial support).

In order to protect women, who are still more likely than men to be the dependent spouse, and to be the spouse continuing with primary responsibility for any children, and to have a smaller pension pot, the spousal exit route clause is a vital protection, whether the annulment or divorce route is chosen. This can be important for the children of the partnership too.  The pause provided by the spousal exit route clause and interim GRC award allows the rights of those wishing to exit their marriage to be dealt with properly and fairly. Without it a spouse might not even know about the GRC application and revision to their marriage contract, before a certificate is granted. It also allows the exiting spouse to obtain divorce or annulment papers which accurately record the sex of the person they married, instead of the papers appearing to show the end of a same-sex marriage. In addition, some GRC applicants may want their spouse to stay in a marriage/civil partnership that the spouse no longer wants to be in due to the change in the contract. The spousal exit route clause prevents this potential form of coercive control.

 

In our view, UK Labour’s current commitment for the clause to be removed from the GRA would compromise women’s existing rights, and we urge you to reconsider.

Labour Women’s Declaration, 3 March 2023.  

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