An important step in recognising the rights of New Zealand’s rainbow communities

Next month a new process of self-identification comes into force which will replace the existing Family Court process.  Under the new Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationship Registration Act people can make an application to amend the sex recorded on their birth certificate, making it easier for people to have their gender recognised as different to the one assigned at birth. The Act also recognises that the Court no longer has the right to make that choice for people. In doing so, NZ joins around 15 other countries with similar legislative reforms, including Denmark and Spain.

It’s an important step for New Zealand’s rainbow community as it recognises the rights and wellbeing of transgender, intersex, non-binary and takatāpui people. The Act also introduces other sex and gender markers, alongside ‘male’ and ‘female’ markers, including a ‘non-binary gender’ and ‘another gender’.

The idea of self-identification on birth certificates was first introduced in 2018 following a public petition. In 2021, after a parliamentary inquiry, Parliament agreed that it is no longer necessary to provide proof of medical treatment or to persuade the Court to have the sex on a birth certificate match the gender that the applicant identifies themselves as. This new process allows everyone to make their own decisions on their identity in the hope of improving mental health and a sense of identity.

This new law only applies to New Zealand birth certificates and not New Zealanders born overseas. However, a process to find a solution for this is currently underway.

Consultation with the youth rainbow community has been important because under 17-year-olds will need to apply with either a guardian consent or with the support of a suitably qualified third party. This party can either be a registered professional such as a doctor, psychologist, social worker, nurse, or counsellor; or any person aged 18 or over that has known the child or young person for 12 months or more.

People will be able to apply directly to the Registrar-General by filling out and submitting a statutory declaration.  The fees for the process of amending the sex or gender on a birth certificate has not yet been determined, however it will no longer be a lengthy and costly process through the Family Court.

Any person who currently has an application under consideration when the new law comes into force will have to finish the process through the Family Court.

In recognition of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Parliament also heavily considered Māori sex and gender markers. There is currently a significant number of Māori who identify with takatāpui and other terminology that is specific to te reo Māori, like whakawahine and tangata ira tāne. These te reo markers are included so that Māori will receive the same recognition of their gender as non-Māori. Acknowledgment of Pacific gender diversity and terms are also recognised.

This Act shows the continuing shift in New Zealand’s society to reflect the changing world and invites the continued inclusion of the LGBTIQ+ community and diverse genders to be a part of that change.