Advance in intersex rights in India outstrips Australia
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Advance in intersex rights in India outstrips Australia

While many people in Western countries tend to assume they are more advanced than other nations when it comes to issues regarding sexuality and gender, such assumptions are often wrong. A recent announcement by election authorities in India demonstrated this, when they indicated that intersex and transsexual people can now indicate their gender as ‘other’ on voting rolls, should they wish.

While it took a recent court ruling to legalize consensual sex between same sex partners in India, the irony was that the law criminalising such acts was a leftover from British rule. 

Despite same sex marriage being banned in Australia, there has been a lot of other progress in recent years in moving towards equal rights for people in same sex relationships, and for gay and lesbian people in general. In a positive sign of how quickly things can change with positive leadership, the Australian state of Tasmania, which was the last to decriminalise sex between male adults in 1997, has led the way with anti-discrimination measures and recognition of same sex relationships.  However, one area where there has been little improvement, and indeed still quite low awareness of the need for improvement, has been in rights for transsexual and intersex people. 

Bureaucratic refusal to ensure records and documents accurately reflect the gender of transsexual people is common, while recognition of intersex people is still rare.  A recent controversy regarding the insistence of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that a woman travelling overseas for gender reassignment surgery be required to use a passport showing her as male has led to some administrative improvements, at least in this area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs apologised over the incident and will now provide a passport in the appropriate gender for transsexuals travelling abroad for gender surgery. Of course, the incident was not unique, which is a reminder of the importance of perseverance in the face if injustice or intransigence. However, it shows there is still a fair way to go for intersex people, as this item from OII Australia details.

Marriage rights for same sex couples in Australia have been effectively blocked since both major parties passed amendments to the Marriage Act in 2004, making the legal definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. 

This has prevented Australian states from legislating for gay marriage and even prevents the legal recognition of the marriage of same sex couples who were married in the increasing number of overseas jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal. An inquiry is currently being held by a Committee of the Australian Senate, examining legislation put forward by a Senator from the minority Green Party which is aimed at removing the ban on gay marriage in the Marriage Act, although the chances of either major party supporting the legislation is very slim, at least at this stage.

UPDATE: Anyone looking for evidence that the prospects of equality for gays and lesbians are even more remote in other countries, need look no further than jaw droppingly outrageous ruling by the Commission on Elections in the Philippines to deny party list accreditation to Ang Ladlad on “moral” grounds.