Spanish lawmakers approved Thursday a law letting anyone 16 and older change the gender on their ID card, even as similar measures elsewhere have sparked division over the complexities of the issue.
The law, which, according to ‘France24’, passed by 191 votes in favour against 60 opposed and 91 abstentions, makes Spain one of the few nations to allow people to change their gender on a national identity card with a simple declaration.
In Europe, Denmark was the first country to grant such a right in 2014.
Thursday's vote was the last hurdle for legislation that has caused a major rift within Spain's fractious left-wing coalition, as the country gears up for a general election later this year.
The law is a flagship project of the equality ministry, which is held by Podemos, the radical left-wing junior partner in the Socialist-led coalition.
“This is one of the most important laws of this legislature... we have taken a giant step forward,” Equality Minister Irene Montero told lawmakers ahead of the vote.
“This law recognises the right of trans people to self-determine their gender identity, it depathologises trans people. Trans people are not sick people, they are just people,” she said.
Until now, adults in Spain could only request the change with a medical report attesting to gender dysphoria, a psychiatric condition of unease with life, and proof of hormone treatment for two years. Minors also needed judicial authorisation.
The new law drops all such requirements, with those aged 14 and 15 allowed to apply if their parents or legal guardians agree, while teens aged 12 and 13 will also require a judge's permission.
Carla Antonelli, a veteran LGBTQ+ activist and the first trans woman to serve as a Spanish lawmaker, hailed the vote as “a historic day”.
“We have always been on the right side of history and today justice has been done,” she tweeted jubilantly after a years-long struggle for gender self-determination that ultimately prompted her resignation from the Socialist party over the infighting generated by the law.
Uge Sangil, head of FELGBTI+, Spain's largest LGBTQ+ organisation, said it would set an example for other nations.
“We're celebrating the fact this law has passed after eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community,” Sangil told AFP outside parliament.
“From today, our lives will change.”
The need for laws to safeguard trans rights has taken on a new urgency with the sharp rise in people reporting gender dysphoria -- the distress caused by a mismatch between a person's biological sex and the gender with which they identify.
But in recent years, several European nations that pioneered transgender legislation have had second thoughts.
Among those who have reimposed restrictions are Sweden and Finland, while in the United Kingdom, parliament last month blocked a Scottish trans rights law similar to Spain’s.
The bitter dispute over transgender issues also played a role in Wednesday's shock resignation of Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Although she had championed the law, Sturgeon became entangled in a dispute over a trans woman convicted of rape before her transition, who had been transferred to an all-female prison.
A year ago, Sweden decided to halt hormone therapy for minors except in very rare cases, following a similar move by Finland in 2020.
And it was adamantly opposed by right-wing groups, with Maria Jesus Moro of the opposition Popular Party (PP) making a last-minute appeal to lawmakers to reject the law.
“We've all heard about countries backtracking because they now realise they were too hasty and it has caused a lot of suffering. Let's not go through the same thing,” she said before the vote.
Other voices have warned that gender self-determination could spell difficulties ahead that will need addressing, including Reem Alsalem, the UN rapporteur on violence against women.
“Nations need to reflect on whether someone with a male biological sex, once they have acquired their female gender certificate, should be able to access all programmes and categories designed for biological women,” she told Spanish daily El Mundo earlier this month.
At Thursday's session, Spanish lawmakers also passed another law granting paid medical leave to women suffering from severe period pain, becoming the first European country to advance such legislation.
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