The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that requiring a transsexual to change her marital status does not constitute a violation of her rights.
In Hämäläinen v. Finland, a panel of judges ruled on the case of a Finnish national who was born as a man. Despite her always feeling like “she was a female in a male body”, Heli Hämäläinen attempted to live as man for several years.
She got married to a woman in 2002 and the couple subsequently had a child. In April 2006 she was officially diagnosed as a transsexual and has since lived as a woman. She underwent gender reassignment surgery in September 2009.
Ms Hämäläinen successfully changed her first names, but she was unable to change her national identification number. As a result, she is still listed as male on that and her passport.
In Finland, each citizen is given an eleven character identity number which includes their year of birth and a three character sequence to indicate gender: odd numbers for males, even numbers for females.
She was unable to register as female due to her marriage. Under Finnish law, confirmation of a gender change can only happen if the person is not married or if their spouse consents to have their marriage converted into a civil partnership.
Ms Hämäläinen’s wife did not consent to the change in status and the couple refused to get a divorce as it would be “against their religious convictions”.
The case was brought before the ECtHR as Ms Hämäläinen believed that forcing her to change her marital status in order to be officially registered as a woman was a violation of Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Article 8 is the right “to respect for [a person’s] private and family life”, Article 12 says that people “of marriageable age have the right to marry”, and Article 14 is a prohibition against discrimination.
The panel of judges voted by a margin of 14 to three that there had been no breach of Articles 8 and 14, and that there was “no need to examine the case under Article 12”.
LGBT activists were not happy with the decision. Alecs Recher, co-chair of transgender rights network Transgender Europe, said it was “unacceptable” that countries “still forcing trans persons to give up their most basic rights” were being told they were free to do so.
Photo of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by barnyz via Flickr