Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Times: ‘I fought Government on transgender issue’

Woman angered by Gonzi’s reference to her marriage battle
Sunday, March 3, 2013 by Claudia Calleja

Joanne Cassar has been fighting for her right to marry for seven years.

Joanne Cassar, who had a sex change, is “angry and upset” that the Prime Minister said he would address transgender issues when his government had been contesting her right to marry for the past seven years.
Actions speak louder than words

The 31-year-old hairdresser has a pending case against the Government, before the European Court of Human Rights, for breaching her rights by refusing to issue marriage banns after her gender was changed to female on her birth certificate.

A few months ago, she said, the ECHR asked the Government if it wanted to reach an agreement with her but the Government stuck to its argument – that marriage can only take place between a biological male and female and Ms Cassar’s gender was only changed on paper to protect her privacy.

“If the Prime Minister truly believes in fighting for the rights of transgender people, his government would not have fought me for so long… actions speak louder than words,” Ms Cassar said.

Speaking during a Nationalist Party activity in Għargħur on Thursday evening, Dr Gonzi said the PN would introduce legislation regulating gender identity in the next legislature. He said there was a void in the law on the subject that had to be addressed but did not comment about why there was no mention of the issue in the PN electoral programme.

He also said Parliament never discussed the Gender Identity Bill, tabled by Labour MP Evarist Bartolo, due to lack of time.

The Bill will make it easier for transgender people to change the gender annotation on their official documents without having to undergo a lengthy and intrusive court process, explained Gabi Calleja from the Malta Gay Rights Movement, which drafted it.

Ms Cassar said she was particularly upset by Dr Gonzi’s reference to her pending case before the European Court of Human Rights.

“He will legislate because he has to, not because he wants to,” she said, adding that she had posted a message on Facebook and on the Nationalist Party page expressing her feelings.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi replied, saying he was sorry she got caught up in all this and there was never any intention to hurt her feelings.

“I apologise for any negative consequences our job may have, even though they are not intentional,” he wrote. Maltese law does not allow the 31-year-old to marry a man since she was born male, even though her gender was changed to female on her birth certificate.

Ms Cassar had surgery in the UK when she was 22 after being diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and self-identification.

Ms Cassar’s battle for marriage started soon after when she and her partner applied for the wedding banns.

The Marriage Registrar refused to issue them even though Ms Cassar had legally changed her gender to female on her birth certificate after surgery.

Her wedding was planned for December 2007 although the couple are no longer together.

In February 2007, Ms Cassar won a civil case in which the court ordered the registrar to issue the wedding banns, but the decision was overturned on appeal in May 2008.

In May 2011, the Constitutional Court held that although Ms Cassar’s rights had been breached this was due to shortcomings in the law to cater for some form of partnership for people in her situation. It did not result that the banns should have been issued.

She has now taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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