Uruguay passes landmark gender identity law

Uruguay’s legislature Monday finalized legislation that will guarantee transgender people’s right to legal recognition of their gender identity based on the reality of their life in society as a man or woman. The legislation, based on similar laws adopted in the United Kingdom in 2004 and in Spain in 2007, is the most progressive of any Latin American nation. Following final approval by the Uruguayan House and Senate, the bill now goes to President Tabaré Vázquez for his signature.

The legislation begins with the statement that “Everyone has the right to free development of his personality according to his own gender identity, regardless of their gender is biological, genetic, anatomical, morphological, hormonal, or other assignment.” An individual will have the right to change his or her sex in the civil registry based upon the “stability and persistence” of gender dysphoria for at least two years. The bill calls for an interdisciplinary expert team, similar to the UK Gender Recognition Panel, to be set up by the government to evaluate applications for civil sex change. Once the civil register has been amended, an applicant is considered to be his or her new gender for all legal and administrative purposes. (A full English translation is not yet available; this description is based on the Spanish version on the Parliament’s website.)

In addition to an applicant’s own testimony, the team may consider the testimony of the individual’s health care providers and “people who know the daily lifestyle of the applicant.” However, the law does not require medical evidence be submitted, and “under no circumstances” is proof of surgery to be required. This is similar to the UK law. By contrast, Spain requires proof of some form of medical treatment for a two-year period, except in cases of old age or illness.

Unlike laws in several other countries, Uruguay’s legislation does not require that applicants be childless or unmarried, or that married applicants divorce. The law states only that it does not change existing laws regarding marriage – a concession to conservatives who wanted it made clear that this law does not establish same-sex marriage. Another unusual provision requires a five-year wait in the rare case of an individual wishing to return his or her civil sex to the birth sex.

This is not the first groundbreaking stride in LGBT rights for the South American nation, which lies just south of Brazil. President Vázquez’s Broad Front coalition made Latin American history in 2007 by passing civil union legislation. Earlier this year, legislation guaranteed same-sex couples the right to adopt. The senator who introduced the civil union law has promised that if the Broad Front prevails in national elections later this month, legislation establishing marriage equality will be introduced next year.

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