Trans Widows Aren’t Trapped in Loveless Marriages

Love is not possible when a spouse controls the life and body of their partner

Katelyn Burns

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Photo: Masako Ishida / Getty Images

Earlier today, British conservative publication The Telegraph highlighted the next group in the anti-trans media carousel: trans widows. The article claimed that passing Gender Recognition Act reform in the country would “trap” spouses of trans people in “loveless marriages.”

Some context is needed here. Currently, trans people in the U.K. can medically transition and even change their name without their spouse’s permission. But in order for a married trans person to change their legal sex on their birth certificate, they must get express written consent from their spouse.

It’s an archaic holdover from the days before marriage equality, when a gender transition meant a legally required divorce or annulment, even if the married couple wanted to stay together. In that era, it would make some sense that both partners would need to consent to a big fundamental life change like that. But even then, the spousal consent rule has frequently been used as an abuse tool to discourage trans people from coming out publicly or even begin pursuing a transition in the first place.

The provision places a cisgender partner in a legally controlling position over their trans spouse. In an era when marriage equality is law of the land, the spousal consent portion of the GRA is no longer needed. Instead, the country needs a mechanism for a clean split if one partner wants to leave.

In the U.K., no-fault divorce is not yet in effect. A new law was passed last year that would provide for no-fault divorces, but it won’t be put into place until next year.

No-fault divorce would allow so-called trans widows to freely leave their marriages and move on, thereby solving the issue of being “trapped” in a loveless marriage. It’s what my ex-spouse and I did in the U.S., and we’re both happier, and better parents, for it.

But that’s not what trans widows really want. Instead, they would rather maintain their legal hegemony over their trans partners’ lives by maintaining the spousal consent provision. By maintaining the status quo, they can continue to garner the media attention — and…

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Katelyn Burns

Political journalist. The first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in US history. Writing about more than just trans issues. Follow her on Twitter @transscribe