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  • Writer's pictureThe Legal Digest

UK Supreme Court Rules Against Gender-Neutral Passports

The latest ruling which presents a setback for the LGBTQ community also highlights the need for the UK to bring its legislation up to date.

In R (on the application of Elan-Cane) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent), Christie Elan-Cane had undergone several operations to achieve a non-gendered status and since the 1990s had been trying to persuade the government that passports should allow a third gender option by having an additional box marked "x - unspecified".

Government departments carried out reviews over time and subsequently concluded that a thorough assessment would need to be carried out to consider her request. Christie Elan-Cane challenged the government's decision arguing that it was a breach of human rights, and sought judicial review from the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court all of which ruled against her argument that the government's decision was a breach of her human rights.

The Court highlighted that currently no UK law recognises gender-neutral as a form of identifying a person and that gender is used in many official legal documents such as birth certificates as confirmation of a person's identity.

The US Supreme Court's decision

The US took a different decision on the same issue in October when Dana Zzyym brought a case to the US Supreme Court for the same reasons and the Court ruled in her favour allowing people that identify as gender-neutral to be granted the option of "x - Unspecified" marked on their passport. The US President also appointed a special envoy to deal with this particular issue in order to advance the rights of the LGBTQ community in the US.

Other countries such as Canada and Germany have also indicated they intend to allow for a third gender option on passports in future.

Although the UK has taken a different decision to the US on this issue, the two legal systems are structured differently. This decision will feel like a setback for the advancement of LGBTQ rights however, the UK government will need to implement legislation to bring it up to date that allows for non-binary people to be recognised and as other countries lead by example.


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