Finland: European Court ruling in Heli case a blow for transgender rights

A woman from Finland who came out as transgender during her marriage should be allowed to be legally recognised as a female without changing her marital status, Amnesty International said after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against her this week. 

Because of Finland’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, Heli, 49, is not able to obtain legal recognition of her gender unless she converts her 18-year marriage into a civil partnership. 

She has already had to undergo a psychiatric assessment and sterilisation as part of the Finland’s legal requirements for gender recognition.   

Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme, said: 

“With this deeply disappointing and unjust ruling, the European Court of Human Rights is condoning Finland’s repressive laws affecting transgender people and reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. 

“These laws are disproportionate and discriminatory. This case highlights the need to overhaul Finland’s laws so that others like Heli can obtain legal recognition and are not forced to undergo such an ordeal. 

“The discriminatory laws preventing same-sex couples from marrying should not be used to deny Heli the enjoyment of her right to private and family life." 

The European Court of Human Rights has previously recognised that an individual’s ability to obtain recognition of their gender identity is “one of the most basic essentials of self-determination”. 

Heli told: “I was not reborn as a woman and I am not remarrying my spouse. We have been married since 1996 and in that marriage, a child was born. If I can live with this, society should be able to.” 

Transgender people are at risk of violations of their right to privacy – as well as discrimination, harassment and even violence – whenever they have to produce documents mentioning a name or other gender-related information that does not reflect their gender identity and expression. 

Background 

Heli brought her case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2009.

On 13 November 2012, the Court ruled against her. The case was referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in April 2013.

Under Finnish law, marriage is allowed only for different-sex partners and civil partnerships are restricted to same-sex partners.

The rights protected by the two regimes differ in relation to adoption and parental rights. For instance, civil partners cannot jointly adopt children. Moreover, if one of the partners gives birth to a child, the other partner is not automatically considered to be the other legal parent unless the child is adopted through second-parent adoption.

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