Transsexual UK

Sarah fell in love with Stephen. But Stephen was born a girl. Their wedding is one of hundreds involving sex-change partners since a change in the law

Marie Woolf
Sunday 09 April 2006 00:00

Sarah and Stephen met as students in the 1970s. They have a secure and loving home in Manchester, and four young children. When they were married in June last year, after 26 years together, dozens of family and friends shared their special day.

But the wedding was not only a joyful affair, it was a historic one. For Stephen, a successful law lecturer, was born female. Now a bearded, tattooed family man, living in a £600,000 home in the south of the city, he is one of 1,200 transsexuals who, since a change in the law last April, have been granted the right to marry.

The Gender Recognition Act gave transsexuals the right to apply for their original gender to be wiped from the record, allowing them to alter their birth certificate and even adopt children.

Since the law was passed, 20 transsexuals a week have applied to a panel set up by the Government to assess their cases and have their change of gender officially recognised. The flood of applications has amazed MPs and members of the transsexual community.

Stephen Whittle says his wedding gave an important status not only to him, but to his wife. He is now in the process of formally adopting his four children.

"Hundreds of people have got married since the law change. I personally know of around 70 couples who have got married. None of these are short relationships. These are relationships that have stood the test of time. These are people who have led totally private lives," he said.

"I had my paperwork ready for the panel on 4 April. Three weeks later I got the certificate. We got married in June. All these people, like my partner, had no status until now."

The situation in Britain is reflected in the film Transamerica, in which Felicity Huffman portrays a pre-op male-to-female transsexual building a relationship with a son she fathered while a college student.

Until the Act became law, transsexuals, even those who had had sex changes on the NHS, were banned from official recognition in their new sex and adopting children. Some who tried to get past the law had their weddings stopped when it was revealed that, technically, they were a same-sex couple.

The Government's decision to change the law followed decades of campaigning by groups representing the estimated 4,000 transsexuals in Britain.

Christine Burns, a city IT consultant and former Tory activist who was among the first to gain a certificate recognising her gender, said some couples have waited 35 years to get married, and were now pensioners. Some elderly transsexuals wanted the right to record their change of gender on their death certificates.

"When the Gender Recognition Bill was debated in Parliament there were all sorts of dire predictions of what it would mean," she said. "Some claimed it would end women's competitive sport as we know it. Some Christians claimed priests would be besieged by hoards of people they'd be required to marry against conscience. None of those hysterical predictions have materialised. Most of the first year's applications have come from people who had waited the longest for this opportunity to have their true identity recognised and respected by society.

"For most it's been a profoundly personal thing - not something to shout about, but a piece of paper to hold, to have a little cry, and feel closure at last."

However, an anomaly in the law, which has angered some, has meant that transsexuals who have changed sex while in a marriage must have that marriage annulled before they can have their sex change officially recognised. Some couples have chosen to stay together as same-sex couples in civil partnership ceremonies.

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