High Court hears landmark case regarding equal recognition before the law for gender diverse and intersex people

Advocates for sex and gender diverse communities have made written submission in a landmark case before the High Court examining whether legal documents should recognise sex categories other than just male and female.

The Human Rights Law Centre is assisting A Gender Agenda, an organisation representing gender diverse and intersex people, to provide expert advice to the High Court given its insights into how current laws impact gender diverse and intersex people on a day to day basis.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said identity documents such as birth certificates were an important foundation for ensuring equal recognition before the law for gender diverse and intersex people.

“Sex and gender diverse people face difficulties in their everyday life accessing services and facilities that most Australians can use without thinking twice. It’s important that our legal systems accurately reflect and accommodate the reality of sex and gender diversity that exists in our society,” said Ms Brown. 

The NSW Registrar is appealing the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal that allowed Norrie, an androgynous person, to be recognized as a sex other than male or female. Norrie had sought to be identified as “non-specific” rather than “male” or “female” on her* identity documents. 

Norrie WAS generously assisted on a pro bono basis by DLA Piper in the High Court appeal as well as the earlier stages of the litigation. (A copy of the DLA Piper media release can be found here.)

The Executive Director Gender Agenda, Samuel Rutherford, said AGA’s submission to the court will represent a broader group of people affected by this case, whose needs and interests may not otherwise be raised in the arguments put before the Court. 

“We support Norrie’s quest for recognition but many other people, in different circumstances to Norrie, will also be impacted by this decision and we wanted to ensure their voices are heard. There is a risk, for example, that intersex people could be automatically assigned to a third category of sex, which would have the potential to further marginalize and stigmatise already vulnerable people,” said Mr Rutherford.

“There is generally a high level of misinformation and misunderstanding about these issues and we hope that the information we put before the Court is useful in clarifying terminology and the interests of gender diverse and intersex people,” added Mr Rutherford. 

The case comes as Australian parliaments are starting to reform their laws to better accommodate differences of sex and gender, including the introduction of federal discrimination protections on the basis of “gender identity” and “intersex status” and, most recently, legislation that would reform ACT births, deaths and marriages laws. 

“The ACT Government has tabled a Bill that will set a new benchmark in terms of recognition of sex and gender diverse people, providing for an optional third category of sex or gender and removing the requirement that sex re-assignment surgery must be performed. Other States, including NSW, are moving more slowly so it’s not surprising that Norrie has taken her battle for recognition to the Courts,” said Mr Rutherford. 

A Gender Agenda is being assisted on a pro bono basis by Kris Walker and Liz Bennett of Counsel, the Human Rights Law Centre and law firm Allens. 

“Regardless of whether Norrie is successful in her case, recent developments point to a growing trend for appropriate legal recognition of gender diverse and intersex people and we are optimistic that the law will change to reflect the reality of our existence,” said Mr Rutherford. 

Legal submissions filed by AGA (including glossary of terms) and other parties – click here

A copy of the transcript of the hearing can be found here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/HCATrans/2014/36.html

*Norrie is referred to using female pronouns in the legal submissions filed on her behalf