Trans Widows and the Spousal “Veto”: a modern fable of male entitlement
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
For clarity, this article uses correct sex pronouns.
Did you know that it is an important part of current Liberal Democrat policy to force trans widows in England and Wales to stay in same sex marriages against their will? You’d think a party that claims to be Liberal would want to make it easier for women to leave broken relationships rather than more difficult, wouldn’t you? To suggest otherwise sounds implausible. Well bear with me, I can assure you it is true.
Google “Spousal Veto” and you will find pages and pages of articles telling you what a terrible thing this part of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is, and how it allows the spouses of trans people to veto their transition in cruel and unusual ways. You’ll never see any evidence presented that the mythical abusive wife, who prevents her husband’s transition out of spite, exists, but that doesn’t stop her being mentioned in every article. After all as any feminist will tell you, when was the truth allowed to get in the way of anti-women propaganda?
What you won’t find, is anything explaining the effect that abolishing the “veto” would have on trans widows. So here goes.
First of all it is not a veto to transition, and it is gaslighting to suggest that it is. Who could have predicted that trans widows would be treated by the politicians in almost exactly the same way that we were treated by our ex-husbands? Why, those of us with a rudimentary understanding of patriarchy, that’s who!
Under the GRA, the transitioning spouse (usually the husband) has to have the consent [for the change of marriage status] of the non-transitioning spouse (usually the wife) before he can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate. Whilst that consent remains outstanding, an interim certificate is issued. This gives any woman who does not consent, the space to get the marriage annulled/dissolved before her husband legally changes sex and becomes her wife. It prevents her being in a same sex marriage that she didn’t sign up to.
This is why this section of the GRA would more accurately be called the Spousal Exit Clause rather than the Spousal Veto.
As well as not being a veto, it doesn’t even prevent transition. The transitioning spouse (usually the husband) is free to do what he wants, wear what he wants and call himself what he wants. He just can’t change his birth certificate.
Many women cannot get divorced due to religious or cultural reasons so this provision enables them to have an escape route from the marriage. Even when women can divorce, without the consent of their husband it can take five years.
The law in England and Wales is sensible enough that the financial provision for spousal maintenance and support of children is not affected by the split being an annulment/dissolution rather than a divorce.
A motion was passed at the 2019 Liberal Democrat Conference that vowed to remove the spousal “veto”. Baroness Barker followed this up with a Private Members Bill in the House of Lords, which proposed to replace the wife’s right to obtain an annulment/dissolution, with the right to be informed that a GRC is being issued. Yes, you read that correctly. A right to be informed.
So a woman could wake up one morning to find a letter on her doormat that essentially tells her that as far as the state is concerned, she’s a lesbian now. I suppose it’s a new opening for greetings card companies.
Fortunately at the time of writing, this bill has automatically fallen due to the dissolution of parliament. It could rear up again like the Terminator, after the General Election though. Would the Lib Dems think it acceptable in any other contract for one party to entirely change the terms, yet the other party still be bound by it? It seems unlikely.
The arguments around this issue boil down to this: Which is the greater evil, a heterosexual woman being trapped in a same sex marriage against her will, or her husband having his Gender Recognition Certificate delayed while his wife leaves the marriage.
It is a prime example of the strength of male entitlement and of society’s unquestioning acceptance of it, that so far it is the “Spousal Veto” narrative that is entirely framing the debate. Males must have complete agency and females must serve.
It would be wrong to finish this article without mentioning the other cohort who will be negatively affected by this – who else do the Liberal Democrats apparently not care about. You’ve guessed it, its lesbians. After women in heterosexual marriages to transitioning men, the other most affected group will be lesbians in same sex marriages or civil partnerships with transitioning women. Good news for them, they could be made straight! All those pesky issues with homophobia gone overnight. Who knew it was always that simple?
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