Married trans people living in countries without same-sex marriage must divorce if they want their true gender recognized, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
Heli Hämäläinen, a Finnish trans woman, lost her case yesterday (16 July). She was told she can only have her female gender recognized if she divorces her wife.
The ECHR ruled there is no obligation on states without gay marriage laws to marry two people of the same gender if one of the partners is transgender.
The couple, married in 1996 and have a 12-year-old child, wanted to stay together and be married.
Due to them both being Christian, they say getting divorced would go against their religious convictions.
Hämäläinen brought legal action against Finland’s government under Article 8 (right to respect, privacy and family), Article 12 (the right to marry) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
The court in Strasbourg ruled it couldn’t force countries to legalize same-sex marriage, especially if they already have civil unions like with Finland.
The Grand Chamber acknowledged not having one’s gender identity legally recognized leads to ‘daily situations in which’ a trans person faces ‘inconvenience’.
However, the court argued forcing the couple to end their happy marriage and enter into a registered partnership that provides ‘almost identical…legal protection’ and implies only ‘minor differences’ should not be a problem.
Transgender Europe described the ruling as ‘regrettable’, saying trans people must give up one human right in exchange for another: the right to be and remain married versus the right to obtain legal gender recognition.
‘Our thoughts are today with Heli Hämäläinen and her family. The Court decided that their rights as a family are inferior to a narrow minded opinion about what a family and marriage should look like,’ says Arja Voipio, TGEU Co-Chair from Finland.
‘The verdict shows that transgender issues at stake are still not properly understood.’
The requirement to end an existing marriage in order to obtain legal gender recognition is one of the legal obstacles trans people still face in 32 out of 49 European countries.