New hope for transsexuals as MPs move to change the law on birth certificates

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Mark Rees has lived as a man for more than 30 years since a gender-change operation at the age of 28. However, the box marked "sex" on his birth certificate still states that he is a woman.

Mark Rees has lived as a man for more than 30 years since a gender-change operation at the age of 28. However, the box marked "sex" on his birth certificate still states that he is a woman.

Until now, the 59-year-old lecturer has been powerless to change this anomaly, which has prevented him from marrying and realising his ambition to become a priest.

However, new proposals would award transsexuals like Mr Rees the right to change their birth certificates.

The Lord Chancellor's department has set up a working group of officials from 12 government departments to take forward reforms that could lead to a change in the law.

This would end years of discrimination, which has meant transsexuals have been penalised when applying for mortgages, car insurance and even pensions. Britain is one of only four countries out of 40 in the Council of Europe that does not legally recognise gender changes.

"My cousin lives in South Africa and he changed his gender from female to male," said Mr Rees, who was the first British transsexual to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

"Even in Turkey you are entitled to change your birth certificate, and they are hardly known for their record on human rights. This change is long overdue."

Mr Rees took his case to court after the Church of England turned down his application to become a priest. Since then, there have been other high-profile challenges from transsexuals that have narrowly failed to overturn British laws.

In 1990, Caroline Cossey, a transsexual who had a successful career as an actress and Bond Girl, sought a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that she should be recognised under British law as a woman entitled to marry a man.

Elizabeth Bellinger also went to court to have her marriage formally recognised. She had been married by a registrar who knew that she was a transsexual, and went on to adopt a child, but then discovered she was not legally married.

Senior government sources say that the Lord Chancellor's working party will seek to establish when a birth certificate should be changed. Not all transsexuals undergo medical treatment, so this is not necessarily an appropriate benchmark for legally changing gender.

Claire McNab, of Press for Change, which campaigns for the rights of transsexual people, welcomed the changes, which have been proposed by Rosie Winterton, the minister responsible in the Lord Chancellor's department.

"It's an absurd situation that sooner or later has to be addressed," said Ms McNab. "The ultimate definition of your status as a man or a woman is your birth certificate. This is an outrageous tangle, and Britain is way behind the rest of Europe on this."

Until the proposed changes have become legal, Mr Rees said that he would be not be prepared to commit himself to marriage.

"I'm an old-fashioned sort of person," he said, "and I feel that I cannot commit myself fully to a relationship because I know that I cannot offer that special person the ultimate commitment of marriage."

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