Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called the latest move by Tasmania’s opposition Labor Party “ridiculous” after Tasmania’s Lower House passed a series of amendments—one of which could require parents to submit a form if they wanted to include a child’s gender on the birth certificate.
The amendments (pdf) will depend on support from Tasmania’s Upper House to become law. The vote is not expected until next week. The upper house comprises 15 members, nine of whom are independents. If passed, the law would be the first of its kind in Australia.
The child’s gender would continue to be recorded on medical records.
Disturbed by the changes, Morrison called on federal Labor leader Bill Shorten to veto the state action at an upcoming national conference for Labor party members.
“Labor’s plan to remove gender from birth certificates in Tasmania is ridiculous,” Morrison wrote on Twitter on Nov. 21. “Bill Shorten should step up and commit to put motion to ALP Federal Conference to outlaw it.”
Labor’s plan to remove gender from birth certificates in Tasmania is ridiculous. Bill Shorten should step up and commit to put motion to ALP Federal Conference to outlaw it.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) November 20, 2018
In Sydney, Shorten told reporters that, despite Labor’s support for the amendment in Tasmania, he himself had no plans to change indications of gender on birth certificates.
“I’ve got no plans to change the way that birth certificates are filled out in this country,” he said on Nov. 21, according to AAP.
The passed amendment states: “The parents of a child aged under 16 years whose birth is registered in the state may apply to the registrar, in a form approved by the registrar, for inclusion of gender information under Section 50 of this Act.”
Labor legal affairs spokeswoman Ella Haddad said a form would ask parents of newborns, “Do you wish to have gender printed on the birth certificate?”
“It creates an opt-in approach,” Haddad said, according to The Australian.
Labor Says End Discrimination, Liberal Says More Consultation Needed
The push to change gender to an opt-in field on birth certificates was a proposal from the more progressive Labor and Greens parties. Alongside other amendments, the change was narrowly voted through after lengthy debate late Nov. 20.
The centre-right Liberal government had sought to update the marriage act by introducing a bill that would remove the requirement for people who transition gender to divorce before being able to amend their gender on official documents. The bill, titled Justice and Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018 (pdf), was to align Tasmania’s state laws with recent changes in federal legislation achieved under the Turnbull Liberal government.
Labor and the Greens then used the opportunity to attach nine additional amendments to the same bill. All of the amendments sought to stamp out the fact that transgender and intersex people were not represented in the Births, Deaths and Marriage Act 1999.
The reforms were passed on a casting vote by Liberal Sue Hickey. The rest of the Liberal Government members did not support the amendments.
Among the nine amendments passed, one of them seeks to allow people over 16 years of age to change their gender on their birth certificate by simply filling out a statutory declaration.
Another amendment seeks to extend the definition of hate speech in Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws to include “gender expression,” in efforts to enforce the correct use of transgender people’s names and how to address them.
Government minister Michael Ferguson said on Nov. 21 that removing gender from birth certificates is akin to conducting social experiments on children.
“Tasmanian parents will be disgusted that the Labor and Greens parties are doing social experiments on their kids and taking their sex off their birth certificates,” he said, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Cassy O’Connor, a Greens leader, calls the passing of the reforms a win.
“A win for democracy, an inclusive and fair Tasmania. Ultimately this reform is for transgender and intersex Tasmanians and all the people who love them,” she wrote on social media.
Her son, Jasper Lees, who is a transgender, had also been involved in efforts to push for the reforms.
Spokesperson Roen Meijers of Transforming Tasmania, a transgender and gender-diverse rights group, praised the reforms.
“I applaud the Tasmanian lower house for providing greater equity, dignity, and hope for transgender, gender diverse and intersex Tasmanians,” he said, according to reports.
Liberal Attorney-General Elise Archer decried the efforts of the Labor and Greens in passing the amendments, calling it a “hijack” of the original bill that the Tasmanian Liberal government sought to pass.
Archer said in a public statement that the bill “no longer resembles the Bill the Government introduced.”
“The Tasmanian Government strongly opposed the amendments, which by Labor and the Greens’ own admission fell outside the scope of the Bill,” she said.
“Make no mistake, this amended Bill contains legally untested, un-consulted and highly problematic changes that we could not support.
“We maintain our view that the reforms proposed by Labor and the Greens should be referred to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute for proper consideration. That is how these types of reforms should be considered,” Archer said.
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