Transgender men and women in Australia are forced to divorce if they want a new birth certificate.

It’s a nauseous feeling, “coming out”. It leads to questions and stigma and more questions and pain. Pain because it’s a deep truth – and therefore a deep vulnerability – to reveal. I know this, as a queer woman.

For transgender people, the difficulty is doubled, tripled, even. There is greater stigma. The are fewer transgender people with whom to identify. They are a letter at then end of an acronym that can feel misunderstood, not only in sexuality, but in every corner of their lives.

Australian laws aren’t helping.

In Australia, coming out as transgender means that, in order to claim your new identity on your birth certificate, you must first divorce your spouse, no matter how long you’ve been married—and no matter whether you wish to divorce at all.

Read that again: Married transgender men and women in Australia must divorce their spouse before they can change their gender on their birth certificate.

Why? Because, in Australia, same-sex marriage is not legal.

One couple in New South Wales has made the first step in changing this.

Georgie Stone was born in the wrong body. Post continues below.

After years of denial from the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to change the gender on one partner’s birth certificate due to the fact that they remained married, the couple took their case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

And the U.N., which published its decision on June 15, agreed with the couple, upholding the partner’s rights to allow her to remain married and have her NSW birth certificate amended.

“It is cruel to make transgender partners choose between their gender identity and their solemn vows of lifelong commitment,” said Rodney Croome, a spokesperson for Just.equal and long-time marriage equality advocate, in a press release.

“State and territory governments should immediately repeal their laws forcing married couples to divorce if these governments wish to be seen as respecting Australia’s human rights obligations,” he added.

While the U.N.’s decision will help this couple, who has been together for 12 years, it won’t change Australian law. At the moment laws in every state and territory, except for the ACT and South Australia, force transgender people to divorce before recognising the change on a birth certificate.


We can only hope it’s a step in the right direction.

Australian laws force transgender people to divorce before changing their birth certificate. Image via Getty.

To be sure, the complexity of feelings that comes with being transgender is not something many of us will ever have to feel—and the unique decision placed upon the life partner of a transgender person is also something foreign to most of us, difficult to understand.

But we can listen—and we can be open to hear from those who have experienced this very particular situation.

Take, for example, Australian Senator Janet Rice, whose husband, Peter, transitioned into Penny, in 2003, 16 years after they were married.

"The biggest shock was I thought I knew everything about Penny," Rice told SBS. "She told me that she was a cross dresser and then over the next couple of years, she realised very much that she was transgendered and wanted to transition. It was a big time of our life."

"For me, I loved Peter," she said. "It was a challenge because it was the sort of thing you don’t expect to happen, but we got through it. There was that realisation that I still love her. That was it. To actually think of her as Peter now is extraordinary."