Demonstrators protest demanding a law to protect the rights of the transgender community outside of the parliament Bundestag building in Berlin, Friday, Apri 12, 2024. Source: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

German Parliament Votes to Make it Easier for People to Legally Change Their Name and Gender

Geir Moulson READ TIME: 3 MIN.

German lawmakers on Friday approved legislation that will make it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official records.

The "self-determination law," one of several social reforms that Chancellor Olaf Scholz's liberal-leaning coalition government pledged when it took office in late 2021, is set to take effect on Nov. 1.

Germany, the European Union's most populous nation, follows several other countries in making the change. Parliament's lower house, the Bundestag, approved it by 374 votes to 251 with 11 abstentions.

The German legislation will allow adults to change their first name and legal gender at registry offices without further formalities. They will have to notify the office three months before making the change.

The existing "transsexual law," which dates back four decades, requires individuals who want to change gender on official documents to first obtain assessments from two experts "sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism" and then a court decision.

Since that law was drawn up, Germany's top court has struck down other provisions that required transgender people to get divorced and sterilized, and to undergo gender-transition surgery.

"For over 40 years, the 'transsexual law' has caused a lot of suffering ... and only because people want to be recognized as they are," Sven Lehmann, the government's commissioner for queer issues, told lawmakers. "And today we are finally putting an end to this."

The new legislation focuses on individuals' legal identities. It does not involve any revisions to Germany's rules for gender-transition surgery.

The new rules will allow minors 14 years and older to change their name and legal gender with approval from their parents or guardians; if they don't agree, teenagers could ask a family court to overrule them.

In the case of children younger than 14, parents or guardians would have to make registry office applications on their behalf.

After a formal change of name and gender takes effect, no further changes would be allowed for a year. The new legislation provides for operators of, for example, gyms and changing rooms for women to continue to decide who has access.

Nyke Slawik, a transgender woman elected to parliament in 2021 for the Greens, one of the governing parties, recounted her experience of going through the current system a decade ago. She said she had had enough of being asked "is that your brother's ID?" when she had to identify herself.

"Two years, many conversations with experts and one district court process later, it was done – the name change went through, and I was nearly 2,000 euros ($2,150) poorer," she told lawmakers. "As trans people, we repeatedly experience our dignity being made a matter for negotiation."

The mainstream conservative opposition faulted the legislation for what it described as a lack of safeguards against abuse and a lack of protection for young people. Conservative lawmaker Susanne Hierl complained that the government is "ignoring the justified concerns of many women and girls."

"You want to satisfy a loud but very small group and, in doing so, are dividing society," Hierl said.

Martin Reichardt of the far-right Alternative for Germany blasted what he called "ideological nonsense."

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement that "there are numerous precautions against possibilities of abuse, however improbable they may be." He insisted that the new law takes into account the interests of the whole of society and said "much less will change with this law than some say."

Among others, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Spain already have similar legislation.

In the U.K., the Scottish parliament in 2022 passed a bill that would allow people aged 16 or older to change the gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. That was vetoed by the British government, a decision that Scotland's highest civil court upheld in December.

In other socially liberal reforms, Scholz's government has legalized the possession of limited amounts of cannabis; eased the rules on gaining German citizenship and ended restrictions on holding dual citizenship; and ended a ban on doctors "advertising" abortion services. Same-sex marriage was already legalized in 2017.

by Geir Moulson

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