German parents will no longer be legally obliged to register their newborn child as male or female, and will instead be officially allowed to assign the baby a “third gender” if the sex cannot be clearly identified at birth.
The new law will come into force on November 1, on the back of a constitutional court decision which states that as long as a person “deeply feels” that they belong to a certain gender, they have a personal right to choose how they legally identify themselves.
Parents of newborn infants will be allowed to leave the gender form on the child’s birth certificate completely blank if it is born with unusual physical characteristics making it impossible to determine the gender.
The new law will apply to intersexuals, also known as hermaphrodites, rather than transsexuals. Hermaphrodites are people in possession of both female and male physical characteristics.
Justice Minister Sabine Leuthheusser-Schnarrenberger said the decision will have deep repercussions and will require “comprehensive reform” of all documents issued by the state. Adult passports currently require people to state their gender, partly to avoid potential problems when traveling abroad.
The ‘third gender’ designation will also have an effect on marriage laws. As of now, only men and women are allowed to legally marry in the country. Homosexual couples can enter into a civil partnership, and no provisions are made for unions between other genders.
Germany is the first European country to implement such legislation, although Australians have allowed citizens to mark their gender on a passport as X since 2011. New Zealand followed suit last year. Activists in both countries say the legislation has helped curb discrimination against transsexuals and those of indeterminate gender, whether they have had gender reassignment surgery or not.
Silvan Agius, policy director at human rights organisation ILGA Europe - the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association - told Spiegel newspaper that the decision will push the rest of the EU to do the same.
"Germany's move will put more pressure on Brussels," Agius said. "That can only be a good thing."