Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain moved on Monday to block gender recognition legislation passed recently by Scotland’s Parliament, opening up a constitutional rift between London and Edinburgh and stoking a highly charged debate over transgender rights.
Members of the Scottish Parliament voted last month to allow transgender people to have the gender with which they identify legally recognized, and to be issued with a new birth certificate without a medical diagnosis. The legislation is intended to make it easier for people in Scotland to legally change the gender with which they identify.
Under the legislation, people age 16 and older could apply for a gender recognition certificate by making a legally binding declaration that they are already living in their “acquired gender,” according to the measure, and intend to do so permanently.
However, the British government in London argues that the move by the Scottish Parliament breaches equalities legislation that applies across Britain, by affording people different treatment depending on where they live.
“After thorough and careful considerations of all the relative advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Britain-wide equalities legislation,” Alister Jack, the British government’s secretary of state for Scotland, said in a statement Monday afternoon.
Even before the decision was announced, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, condemned the prospect of an intervention by London as a transgression of her country’s rights.
“If there is a decision to challenge, then in my view then it will quite simply be a political decision and it will be using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable stigmatized groups in our society, as a political weapon,” she said on Monday.
“I think that will be unconscionable, indefensible and really quite disgraceful,” she added, insisting that the legislation fell within the powers of the Scottish Parliament — the legal issue in dispute.
Under a statute known as the Scotland Act of 1998, which sets out the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the government in London has the ability to block laws that affect issues that fall under the purview of the British government. This is the first time a prime minister has sought to use these powers.
After the Scottish legislation was passed, the British government had 28 days to decide whether to block it. But its action is almost certain to be challenged in court, and the decision is expected to be the start of a legal battle.