Scotland’s Contemptible Gender Reform Bill

Nicola Sturgeon speaks while on a campaign trail in Arbroath, Scotland, Britain, May 2, 2022. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)

On behalf of women and girls across the country, the U.K. government is right to contest this bill.

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On behalf of women and girls across the country, the English government is right to contest this bill.

‘I f this parliament will not respect the rights of women, then you have no decency. And if you will not be decent then I will be indecent.” So said Elaine Miller, a Scottish comedian, from the public gallery of the Scottish parliament last week, before lifting her skirt and revealing her unmentionables.

Miller’s stunt was intended to call attention to the Scottish parliament’s contemptibility, as lawmakers voted 86 to 39 to pass a bill making it easier and faster for people to change their legally recorded sex. The stunt also exposed, quite literally, what this debate is about. Like the rest of us, when Miller entered the world, her sex was observable and objective to those around her. She might conceal, disguise, or disfigure her sex — but she cannot change it.

Nevertheless, since 2004, Britain’s Gender Recognition Act has supplanted this biological fact with a legal fiction allowing adults with persistent gender dysphoria to change their recorded sex. The Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill takes the original law even further. The new law would lower the minimum age to change one’s recorded sex from 18 to 16 and lower the required time of “living in [one’s] acquired gender” from two years to three months (or six months for those aged 16 and 17). The reform would also remove the need to provide a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. In Scotland a 16-year-old could decide to legally change his or her sex but would have to wait to turn 18 to legally get a tattoo or buy alcohol.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said she will “never apologize for trying to spread equality, not reduce it, in our country.” Her commitment to the cause may come at a high political price. As well as scenes of protest, her transgender policy has caused a rebellion within her party and growing displeasure from even the most hardened Scottish nationalists. Polling by YouGov shows that roughly two-thirds of Scots are opposed to the reforms.

Perhaps controversy is part of Sturgeon’s broader political strategy. Since devolution in 1999, the Scottish parliament has limited powers separate from the U.K. government. Technically, however, the U.K. government could seek to prevent the law from going into effect by blocking “Royal Assent,” the formal agreement by the king that’s necessary for a bill to become an act of the Scottish parliament. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, has already indicated that the English government is considering doing just that. The Scottish government has responded that “any attempt by the UK government to undermine the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament will be vigorously contested.”

If the idea is that a challenge from England would drum up support for independence, it hasn’t been properly thought through. Sturgeon may argue that the will of the U.K. government shouldn’t be forced upon Scotland. But neither should the will of the Scottish government be forced upon the rest of the U.K. If Scottish citizens are to have their self-declared legal sex recognized in England and Wales, the Scottish gender law will affect those populations as well.

When the original law was passed in 2004, the notion that changing a person’s legal sex was a harmless fiction was an easier sell. But in recent years, critics have pointed out the serious dangers this view presents to women and children.

The reforms require that an applicant “intends to continue to live in the acquired gender permanently.” But what about those who change their minds? Already, lawsuits against medical practitioners are pending for youngsters who regret irreversible medical transitions. At 16, most children are still in school. By legally recognizing a teenager’s self-declared sex, Scotland would force schools to let adolescent boys compete in girls’ sports and use girls’ spaces such as changing rooms.

Another worrying aspect of the bill is that it will entitle even abusive men access to women’s spaces. These scenarios are not hypothetical. Already, there have been horror stories of male sex offenders identifying as female and being transferred to women’s prisons in Scotland and elsewhere. Yet even sensible amendments for blocking sex offenders from receiving a gender-recognition certificate were rejected by Sturgeon and her allies.

The bill establishes “an offence to knowingly make a statutory declaration under this section which is false.” But how could this ever be enforced? In effect, everyone utilizing the bill’s provisions is making a false declaration, since one cannot truly change one’s sex.

Women deserve better than the Gender Recognition Reform bill.

Madeleine Kearns is a staff writer at National Review and a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.
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