Sex change causes stir over legality of marriage

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff reporter, with AFP

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - Page 3

Academics are accusing the government of basic human rights violations after the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) earlier this year stripped a transgender couple of their legally married status, in a case that raises fundamental questions about the meaning of marriage.

Prior to getting married in October, Abbygail Wu (吳伊婷), 27, and her partner, Jiyi Wu (吳芷儀), 29, obtained the necessary papers by registering with government authorities to obtain their marriage certificate. In their application, Jiyi Wu applied as the “husband” in the couple, while Abbygail Wu did so as the “wife.”

Two months earlier, the Wus had undergone sex changes, or “gender reassignment surgery,” to tranform them from men into women. However, when earlier this year Jiyi Wu applied for legal status as a woman, the Taipei City Household Registration Office noticed some “irregularities” and turned to the city’s Department of Civil Affairs, which in turn requested input from the ministry.

In the end, the ministry revoked the marriage certificate and stated that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman.

Chiu Ming-tang (邱銘堂), an official with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), said the Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretations, the Civil Code and rulings by the High Court on marriage-related cases supported the MOI’s view that under the current system, the definition of marriage is based on the prerequisite of the union of one male and one female.

For cases where a person involved has gender recognition issues, the MOI uses the date of the conclusion of reassignment surgery as the legal standard for defining the gender of an individual, Chiu said.

The legality of a marriage comes after such a distinction is made, Chiu said.

The deputy director of the MOI’s Department of Household Registration Affairs, Su Ching-chao (蘇清朝), said that based on the MOJ’s definition, the Wus had completed their gender reassignment prior to registering their marriage, and that under the Civil Code, both were considered female and their marriage was therefore invalid.

Jiyi Wu sees things otherwise.

“In the eyes of government officials, gender is far more important than the value of marriage and family,” Jiyi Wu told reporters last week.

Backed by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), the Wus have called on the government to reverse its “illegal” decision and are threatening to take legal action by July 23 if the annulment is upheld.

They say they will ask the Supreme Court to explain why a legally recognized marriage can be “illegally revoked” by the government — a decision that could very well be a precedent in Taiwan.

Weighing in on the ministry’s decision last week, Chen Chao-yu, associate professor of law at National Taiwan University, told Gay Star News that the government had no legal grounds to cancel the marriage registration, a move that she described as “a violation of due process.”

Chen added that the ministry’s interpretation of marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, or husband and wife, was also open to debate.

Furthermore, despite the sex reassignment, the Wus remain the same individuals who met all the criteria to get legally married last year, Josephine Ho (何春蕤), a sexologist at National Central University, told the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper).

Ho said that the fact that changes in the Wus’ identity cards could be used post-facto to nullify their legal relationship reflected “institutional and regulatory contradictions in the law, from which no citizen should suffer.”

Chen said that there was a precedent to the case, when the government in 1994 continued to recognize as legal a union that became “homosexual” after the husband legally changed his gender.

If the Wus win, it would mean that people in Taiwan are free to change their legal gender after marriage and that the country has adopted de facto same-sex marriage, she said.

Additional reporting by Jake Chung, with CNA