MSPs vote to pass controversial gender reforms in Scotland

MSPs voted by 86 to 39 for the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Credit: PA Images

MSPs in Scotland have voted to pass controversial gender legislation that allows transgender people to self identify.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill passed by 86 votes to 39 on Thursday and will remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

It would also lower the minimum age for applicants to 16 and drop the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – six for those aged 16 and 17 – though with a three-month reflection period.

MSPs had undertaken an intense debate on the issue this week, spending more than 24 hours in the consideration of amendments and final vote.

The passage was marred by protests, as opponents of the legislation interrupted proceedings as Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison brought the debate to a close, and other shouted "shame on you" from the public gallery after the final vote.

Opponents of the legislation have questioned its potential impact on women and girls, particularly in relation to single sex spaces, while the Scottish Government has said little will change.

The new law has caused rebellions across the chamber, with SNP MSPs announcing before the vote they would defy the whip, while Scottish Tory Jamie Greene dissented from his party’s view, although the Tories were given a free vote on the issue.

It is also understood some Labour opponents to the Bill were allowed to miss the vote.

But the passage of the Bill does not clear its path to the statute book, with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack now able to legally challenge the law if he believes it impacts on the UK, while private groups are also able to take legal action should they wish.

UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has raised concerns about the impact of the Bill on the rest of the country.

Speaking in the final debate on the Bill on Thursday, Ms Robison said: "Every party in this chamber except one made a clear commitment to the reforms set out in this Bill at the last Scottish election, and at the one before that it was all parties.

"Members from all parties in this chamber voted to support the general principles of the Bill at stage one.

"At this final stage, I urge all members to vote in favour of these important reforms and for the Bill, I move the motion in my name.

"Trans rights are not in competition with women’s rights, and as so often before, we can improve things for everyone when those discriminated against act as allies, not opponents."

But Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton said the Bill "has shown this Parliament at its worst".

She added: "In the rush to make the process a little easier for trans people, the Government is making it easier for criminal men to attack women. That’s the problem here."

Ms Hamilton said the Bill – which she claimed would be a "legacy issue for the First Minister" – would "let criminal men exploit the system" and put women at risk in single-sex spaces.

MSP Rachael Hamilton said the Bill would "let criminal men exploit the system" and put women at risk in single-sex spaces. Credit: PA Images

The Equality Act features exemptions for single-sex spaces where trans people can be excluded in certain circumstances – exemptions Ms Robison has said will not change.

Ms Hamilton went on to claim that "society as a whole" is at risk from the Bill, adding: "While most of us across Scotland are good, decent, reasonable people, rapists are not, sex offenders are not, it is ignorant in the extreme to believe that they will not take advantage of loopholes that are ripe for exploitation."

Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy said the legislation provides MSPs with "one of those rare moments… where we all have a real opportunity to improve lives and directly tackle inequality".

She said the Bill will help "society to accept them (trans people) and to support them to be their best selves, without barriers or additional costs or medicalisation".

She insisted: "I believe strongly the reform we will vote for today has been a long time coming, and that is why changing the current onerous, lengthy and invasive process of legal gender recognition has always been so important to me."

MSPs spent 24 hours this week debating it after two marathon sessions considering amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday – with the latter finishing at 1.15am on Thursday.

The Tories have been accused of an attempt to filibuster the legislation, proposing numerous points of order and forcing almost all amendments to votes that were sometimes not required.

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