Marriage difficulty: Legal status


PHILIPPA, A woman in her 40s is married to Helen. The Irish couple have been married for 26 years. They have a teenage daughter and they live and work in Dublin.

They don’t wish to give their surname to protect their daughter’s privacy.

Philippa was born male, and married Helen when she was a man. Having struggled with her “maleness” from about the age of eight, she finally had gender reassignment surgery in England last year.

Sitting in a coffee shop on Dublin’s Nassau Street at the weekend, she tells of her loving marriage and how Helen is her best friend in the world.

Helen speaks of how “absolutely” she loves Philippa. “It hasn’t been easy and it has taken a long number of years to come to terms with but the essentials are there. She’s still the person I fell in love with.”

Philippa’s passport, driving license, bank cards all reflect the fact that she is a woman. However, according to her birth certificate she is a man. Birth certificates cannot be reissued with a different gender to that on the original.

Legislation to provide for gender recognition for “trans” men and women, ie allowing birth certificates to be reissued, is being drafted.

However, the Department of Social Protection is unable to estimate when it will be published. According to a spokeswoman legal opinion is still being given on it.

The stumbling block, according to Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), appears to be how to recognise married trans people, given the constitutional protection of marriage between a man and a woman.

For Philippa to have her womanhood recognised she would have to divorce Helen.

“It’s an impossible choice, to have to choose between my wife and my identity.”

Helen tells how there were times, as she struggled to come to terms with her husband’s struggle, that Philippa offered to suppress what was going on, to try and deny it to herself.

“But she’d get so wound up, so upset that in the end I had to say, ‘Go for it ’.”

“People say we could divorce and have a civil partnership, but I don’t want to be divorced. We don’t want to be pushed into some lesser status.

“We have come through a lot and we are still together and it feels like we’re being penalised for that, for having a strong, deep love.”

When the argument is raised that to allow them to remain married as two women would be an attack on the family, she asks how can forcing a loving couple to get divorced be a protection of the family.

“It’s an attack on my family,” she says.