Germany to recognise that not everyone is male or female

Constitutional court rules 80,000 intersex people in Germany can register their gender

Vanja, an intersex person  registered as a female: Vanja’s case in the German courts has resulted in a  ruling to have the intersex gender recognised. Photograph: Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images

Vanja, an intersex person registered as a female: Vanja’s case in the German courts has resulted in a ruling to have the intersex gender recognised. Photograph: Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images

 

Germany’s constitutional court has ordered a third gender option be added for the birth registry. In a landmark ruling, the court said that an intersex person, who is neither male nor female, is entitled to register their gender as such.

The Karslruhe court ruled on Wednesday that the protection of personality, enshrined in Germany’s post-war Basic Law, meant the birth register must be altered to allow a third gender.

“Assignment to a gender is of paramount importance for individual identity,” the court said in its seven-to-one ruling. “It typically plays a key role both in the self-image of a person and in the way in which the person concerned is perceived by others. The gender identity of those persons who are neither male nor female is protected.”

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, obliges German lawmakers to legislate by the end of 2018 for a third sex, allowing new choices in birth certificate entries including “intersex,” “diverse” or another “positive designation of sex”.

The ruling, which left open the possibility of scrapping gender entries entirely from the birth register, makes Germany the first European country to allow a third gender on the birth registry.

Since 2013, it has been possible to leave the gender field blank on German birth certificates, but intersex campaigners insisted this was not enough.

‘Small revolution’

Advocacy group Dritte Option (Third Option) wrote on Twitter that it was “completely overwhelmed and speechless” by a ruling it called a “small revolution”. The Association for Intersexual People welcomed the ruling and called for “further steps in the same direction”.

Bringing the case was an intersex person, Vanja, from Leipzig, who had applied to change birth registry gender from “girl” to “inter” or “various”. Though chromosome analysis found the person neither male nor female, the case failed in all previous instances. Vanja described the ruling to a Leipzig newspaper as a source of “great joy”.

Vanja said the court had made clear that “it is not a flaw that there are people who live neither as men or women”. Court rulings alone would not bring about wider acceptance of intersexuality in society, Vanja said, but it was a “step in the right direction”.

Some 80,000 people in Germany identify as intersex, meaning they don’t display the gender traits of people generally described as “male” or “female”.

Sixteen associations and organisations testified in the high-profile case, with human rights, sexual research and psychology organisations favouring a third sex, while a lay Catholic organisation opposed any change.

Germany’s acting federal family minister Katarina Barley called on the next government to legislate quickly and follow Australia, New Zealand, India and Nepal in recognising intersex people.

“I would call for a comprehensive reform of the law for trans- and intersexuals in accordance with the Council of Europe’s guidelines,” she said.