German parliament to vote on making it easier for people to legally change their name and gender

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German lawmakers are expected to vote Friday on a government plan to make it easier for transgender, intersex and non-binary people to change their name and gender in official documents. The “self-determination law,” one of several social reforms that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s liberal-leaning coalition government pledged when it took office in late 2021, would take effect on November 1. It would allow adults to change their first name and legal gender at registry offices without further formalities. They would have to notify the office three months before making the change.

The existing “transsexual law,” which dates back four decades, requires individuals who want to change their gender on official documents to first obtain assessments from two experts “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” and then a court decision. Since that law was drawn up, Germany’s top court has struck down other provisions that required transgender people to get divorced and sterilised and to undergo gender-transition surgery. The new legislation focuses on individuals’ legal identities. It does not involve any revisions to Germany’s rules for gender-transition surgery.

The new rules allow minors 14 years and older to change their name and legal gender with approval from their parents or guardians; if they don’t agree, teenagers could ask a family court to overrule them. In the case of children younger than 14, parents or guardians would have to make registry office applications on their behalf. After a formal change of name and gender takes effect, no further changes would be allowed for a year. The new legislation provides for operators of, for example, gyms and changing rooms for women to continue to decide who has access.

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Nyke Slawik, one of two transgender women who were elected as lawmakers in 2021, said ahead of the vote in parliament’s lower house, or Bundestag, that the new rules would have saved her over a year of dealing with courts, seeking expert assessments and spending nearly 2,000 euros (USD 2,150). “We finally want to make it easier,” Slawik, a lawmaker with the Greens, one of the governing parties, told ARD television. “Many other countries have gone this way, and Germany is simply following suit in significantly simplifying this registration.”

Among others, Spain’s parliament in early 2023 passed a law that allows people over 16 years of age to change their legally registered gender without any medical supervision. In the UK, the Scottish parliament in 2022 passed a bill that would allow people aged 16 or older to change the gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. That was vetoed by the British government, a decision that Scotland’s highest civil court upheld in December.

In other socially liberal reforms, Scholz’s government has legalised the possession of limited amounts of cannabis; eased the rules on gaining German citizenship and ended restrictions on holding dual citizenship; and ended a ban on doctors “advertising” abortion services. Same-sex marriage was already legalised in 2017.