Joint Committee on Social Protection - General Scheme of Gender Recognition Bill 2013: Discussion

24.10.2013

For the full text of the hearing please click here.

Senator Zappone:

Not being a member of the joint committee, I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to raise some questions. I also thank the witnesses for their brilliant presentations and for placing such expertise at members’ disposal. I will refrain from giving a speech on a topic that is very close to my heart, but I have specific questions to raise. I do not know whether there have been many questions about this issue but my first set of questions pertains to the absence in these heads of Bill of an equality provision on the basis of transgender identity. I note that FLAC, Dr. Ryan and the Equality Authority mentioned this, and perhaps they might comment a little further on it. The witnesses may not have developed this issue much in the context of their submissions because it was not there, but perhaps the joint committee needs a little more information in this regard. It sounds to me as though an opportunity may be missed in terms of placing such a provision within this Bill. If not in this Bill, where should it go if, as law-makers, members agree it is necessary? If it is not done now, when would it happen, and therefore why not do it now? Moreover, do the witnesses believe the inclusion of this provision in this Bill would make sense legally as well as logically? I ask particularly with regard to the policy objective of this law. This is a set of questions to invite the witnesses to comment a little further if they wish. They also may wish to submit a little more thought on this subject because I note that in its presentation yesterday, the Department indicated it was considering that.
My second question is directed to Dr. Crowley, whom I thank for his attendance. I noted a comment he has made previously which was extremely helpful, which is that he believes this law’s primary objective ought to support the normalisation of the identity of transgender people and to support their psychological well-being. That is such a fantastic principle, which I believe ought to be behind the Bill. In light of that, can Dr. Crowley then comment on the requirement for evidence in the form of a statement from the treating physician being one of the requirements for gender recognition? As several witnesses in the hearings today and yesterday effectively identified this requirement as a form of pathologising the identity, I invite Dr. Crowley to comment on that. I have sought some legal opinion on the single status requirement and will not say too much as I will have an opportunity to speak to the joint committee about it later. However, I have a question, if witnesses wish to comment a little further. Ms Blackwell has eloquently outlined the disproportionality of the impact on a very small number of people of the requirement for a forced divorce and single status. Moreover, there certainly is a huge difference of opinion as to whether this is needed in respect of constitutional compliance. If one combines the ambiguity of that with the reality of the disproportionality with regard to human rights, is there then a stronger argument for not requiring single status? I support the suggestion by Senator Power that perhaps there could be more exchange with the Department on this issue. I also invite Dr. Ryan to comment a little on this issue because he is aware I remained silent on it in the Bill I introduced. Both Dr. Ryan and Dr. Ní Mhuirthile assisted in the preparation of that Bill and I invite them to comment briefly on the reason we chose that approach. In other words, here is an alternative as an approach in law-making, as distinct from what is before members.

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