Britain is preparing to rip up centuries-old rules by introducing passports which do not contain details of the holder’s sex.
The move, following pressure from the Lib Dems, is designed to spare transgender people and those who have both male and female sexual organs from having to tick ‘male’ or ‘female’ on their travel papers.
Currently, everybody must identify themselves as a man or woman, even when they are undergoing a sex-change operation or if they are considered ‘intersex’.
But with the Lib Dems promising to be ‘fierce champions of equality’, the Home Office has begun a consultation on changing the rules.
To satisfy international laws, the passport would still list a category titled ‘sex’, but would then contain a simple ‘X’ for everybody.
Supporters say it will solve the problem of embarrassing situations at border controls, where people whose sex appears to differ from that in their passport are grilled for long periods by guards.
But some Home Office officials are concerned the change could make life harder for the already stretched UK Border Agency by giving them one fewer piece of information to work from.
Last night, the Home Office said: ‘We are exploring with international partners and relevant stakeholders the security implications of gender not being displayed in the passport.’
Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone is under pressure to act from her fellow Lib Dem MPs.
One backbench MP, Julian Huppert, said: ‘There does not seem to be a need for identity documents of any kind to have gender information. It is not a very good biometric; it is roughly a 50:50 split. Military ID, such as the MOD90, which obviously can have quite a high security clearance, contains no gender information. That might be what we should look at.’
Mrs Featherstone – who has just announced plans for gay weddings – has made a string of promises committing the Government to do more for transgender people.
She said: ‘The UK Government is totally committed to creating a society that is fair for everyone.
‘We are committed to tackling prejudice and discrimination against transgender people at home and around the world. We need concerted government action to tear down barriers and help to build a fairer society for transgender people.’
And she said in a speech on Saturday: ‘While on my travels as a champion for women’s rights, I am and will be a champion for gay rights too. Britain must not get complacent. We are a world leader for gay rights, but… there is still more that we must do.’
Under existing rules, a ‘transgender’ person undergoing a sex-swap is free to change their identity to a new sex, once the procedure is complete and a gender recognition certificate has been issued.
While undergoing a sex change, a person can also nominate their intended new sex, and place that on their passport. They must produce a certificate from a doctor saying that is the gender under which they live their daily lives.
But people who are classed as intersex – a condition which people carry from birth, where they have male and female reproductive organs – are forced to make a choice.
Home Office officials say the review is wide-ranging and they are considering ‘all the gender options’.
The law in Britain could be changed in a matter of days. Passports come under the royal prerogative, so only a simple ministerial order would be required.
Last night, an Identity and Passport Service spokesman said: ‘IPS is considering the gender options available to customers in the British passport.
‘This is at the early discussion stage and no decisions have been taken. Any changes to the UK passport would need to satisfy our rigorous security requirements.’
On Saturday, Mrs Featherstone announced the coalition will push ahead with plans to introduce ‘gay marriage’ by 2015. At present, gays and lesbians are allowed to enter civil partnerships, which offer most of the legal protections of marriage. But the term ‘marriage’ is not used.
We don't need another identity crisis
It's a simple equation. If you make things more uncertain, people feel more insecure and vulnerable. We thrive when we know our boundaries, when we know what is true, that something is real, our history and our culture. Knowing who you are - your self-awareness, how you relate to other people including your family - is vital for good mental health and continuity in personal development.
We have before us this morning another example of well-meaning but narrow minded foolishness and relativism. The proposal to remove gender details from an individuals passport will further fuel the identity crisis that is already a significant issue for so many in our country. Pluralism might be fine in a tolerant society but that doesn't mean we should become relative about gender. We need to know who we are - and who our neighbours are too!
We live in a free country and this has enabled a small number of people to define themselves transgender, but their reproductive organs show what is their actual gender. Another tiny proportion are born with "ambiguous genitalia" where post-birth tests have to be carried out to identify the dominant gender. Most doctors advise early surgical and hormonal intervention for the sake of establishing the child's gender identity and sense of belonging in society. A third group suffer from a rare gender-identity-disorder where they feel that they are the opposite sex to the one they were born.
In all these cases the gender can be established, whether an individual likes it or not. We have nothing to gain by introducing more uncertainty into identity. A country that persists in making its laws based on relativism and feelings will become weak, vulnerable and freedom will be lost not gained.
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