The UK government decided that a law passed by the devolved Scottish Parliament would interfere with equality laws elsewhere in Great Britain and blocked it from becoming law.

The bill would allow transgender people in Scotland to legally change their gender without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This would certainly make it easier to change one’s gender in Scotland, lowering the average waiting period from two years to six months. The only caveat is that the individual wanting to change their gender must have lived publicly in their chosen gender for two years.

The parliament passed the law by an 86-39 vote.

“We think that trans people should not have to go through a process that can be demeaning, intrusive, distressing and stressful in order to be legally recognized in their lived gender,” the Scottish government said when proposing the new rules.


The Equality Network, a leading Scottish LGBTI rights group, said that “after years of increasingly public prejudice against trans people, things have started to move forward.”

But the bill also attracted huge amounts of criticism, including from some lawmakers in the governing Scottish National Party (SNP) and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who said the law could have a detrimental effect on the rights of women and girls.

Rowling and other opponents of the bill argued it would weaken the protection of spaces that are designed to make women feel safe, such as women-only shelters.

The UK government has a good case to make. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — the United Kingdom — all have different laws dealing with the issue of equality. They all have distinct national cultures, different histories, and religions. For Scotland to step forward and claim the right to change a legal definition of gender is problematic.

The power over gender recognition laws is devolved to Scotland’s government, but legislation governing equality is set by Westminster.

“The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that (blocking it) is the necessary and correct course of action.”

Speaking in the UK Parliament on Tuesday, [Scottish Secretary Alister] Jack said he “had not taken the decision lightly.”

“This is the first time the power has been exercised and I acknowledge this is a significant decision,” Jack told lawmakers Tuesday. “We should be clear that this is absolutely not about the United Kingdom government being able to veto Scottish Parliament legislation whenever it chooses, as some have implied.”

Scotland can try amending the law and presenting it again — an unlikely event — or they can take the British government to court. No matter what course they decide to take, this is just one more indignity in Scottish eyes that could lead to eventual separation from the United Kingdom.

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