The House of Lords has found on 10 April 2003 that the marriage was not valid, because English law does not recognise any change of gender. The Lords decided that they did not have the power to change the relevant legislation and that any change in the law would require parliament to act.
The case was brought by Mrs Bellinger of Lincoln, after a succession of courts ruled that her 21-year marriage was void because of sex-change surgery undertaken in the early 1980s. As UK law currently forbids same sex marriage the Lords were ruling on whether at the time of her marriage Mrs Bellinger could legally be recognised as a women. Ruling on the original case brought by Mrs Bellinger, judge Gavin Lightman has said: "Sex is determined at birth and cannot subsequently be altered by any such operation as was undergone by the claimant."
In July 2002 the European Court decided in the cases of Goodwin v The United Kingdom and "I" v The United Kingdom that section 11(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is not compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights as .there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and a violation of Article 12 (right to marry and to found a family). This means that UK law is currently in breach of the European Convention fo Human Rights and that UK law needs to be changed.
It was on this basis that Mrs Bellinger sought to challenge the annulment of her marriage, a challenge that the courts were not able to accept.
The Lords accepted that "the criteria for designating a person as male
female are complex" but felt that such a substantive change to British
lay outside of the remit of the courts.
"This [case] raises a question which ought to be considered as part of an overall review of the most appropriate way to deal with the difficulties confronting transsexual people," said the ruling.
"A change in the law as sought by Mrs Bellinger must be a matter for deliberation and decision by parliament when the forthcoming Bill is introduced."
The Lord Chancellor's Department accepted the incompatibility of the ban on
transsexual marriage with the Human Rights Act, and has promised to
introduce measures to address the problem.
The Lord Chancelors Department has provided a FAQ
page on what this ruling means for those in similar situations.
Details of the governments legal view on transgender issues can be found on the Lord Chancelors "Transgender People" page.
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