Lawmakers in Scotland passed a contentious law Thursday, Dec. 22, making it easier and faster for people to change their gender, despite a rare rebellion within the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) and "concerns" from the UK government.
The legislation, which garnered 86 votes in favor but 39 against in Scotland's devolved parliament in Edinburgh, drops the requirement for a gender dysphoria medical diagnosis in order for someone to alter their gender.
"The motion is therefore agreed and the Gender Recognition Reform Scotland Bill is passed," presiding officer Alison Johnstone said to loud applause from the public gallery.
People aged 16 and 17 will also now be allowed to change their gender, despite efforts by some Scottish lawmakers to keep the age at 18.
The law reduces from two years to three months—or six months for 16-17 year-olds—the time needed for an applicant to live in their new gender before it is officially recognized.
An additional three-month reflection period is also required, during which time those who have initiated or are considering altering their gender can change their mind.
Opponents of the law fear it could be a danger to women and girls, particularly around the provision of single-sex spaces.
But the Scottish government insists the legislation will not impact the Equality Act, which allows for trans people to be excluded from single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and shelters.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has faced one of the biggest internal rebellions of her eight-year tenure over the issue, said the previous system to change gender was "intrusive, traumatic and dehumanizing."
JK Rowling backed protests
"I am a feminist. I will argue for women's rights. I will do everything I can to protect women's rights for as long as I live," Sturgeon said during a lengthy debate on the law.
"But I also think it's an important part of my responsibility to make life a little bit easier for stigmatized minorities in our country, to make their lives a bit better, and to remove some of the trauma they live with on a day-to-day basis."
Rachael Hamilton, a Conservative lawmaker, said society as a whole was at risk from the law.
"While most of us around Scotland are good, decent, reasonable people, rapists are not, sex offenders are not," she said.
"It is ignorant to the extreme to believe they will not take advantage of loopholes that are ripe for exploitation."
The slow passage of the bill through the Scottish parliament has been marred by repeated protests, and has seen Sturgeon pitted against Harry Potter author JK Rowling as well as some members of her own party.
Rowling, who has been accused of being transphobic and subjected to threats on social media since publishing a controversial essay on gender identity in 2020, backed protests in Edinburgh over the legislation.
Meanwhile, SNP lawmaker Ash Regan, who was minister for community safety, resigned in October saying her conscience would "not allow" her vote for the law.
The UK government said on Thursday it shared "the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this bill" and vowed to "look closely" at it.
London could try to block it coming into force if ministers believe the new Scottish law will conflict with UK-wide legislation. (AFP)