Christine Timbrell, a transgender woman from the United Kingdom, had sex change surgery and then changed her name to reflect her gender when she was 59 years old. Timbrell has been married to a woman for over 40 years, starting much before her transition. Timbrell transitioned with the knowledge and consent of her wife and they maintained a happy marriage post-transition.

But their marriage makes the transition process more difficult for Timbrell. UK legislation passed in 2004 allows transgender people to have their gender legally recognized. But it also contains a caveat to prevent gay marriages — married transgender people can only apply to have their gender recognized if their previous marriages are annulled or dissolved.

Timbrell chose to remain with her wife, forfeiting her legal right to be viewed as a woman. That basically meant that Timbrell faced the choice of either losing legal recognition of her marriage, or being unable to have her gender legally recognized.

This discriminatory caveat opened Timbrell up for unfair treatment with regard to pension benefits. Typically, women are entitled to a state pension starting at age 60, while men don’t get a state pension until age 65. So how does this gender disparity affect transgender people? Typically, if a transgender person legally changes their gender, they are eligible for pension benefits based on their gender. But due to Christine’s marital situation, she is legally male.

Christine Timbrell applied for her state pension in 2002. She asked that it be backdated to her 60th birthday a year earlier. The Department of Work and Pensions said she was only entitled to a state pension from the age of 65, not age 60 like other women. She took the case to the Court of Appeal in attempt to receive pension starting at age 60. Her attorney, Marie-Eleni Demetriou, argued that the caveat of the Gender Recognition Act requiring she end her marriage for her gender to be recognized violates her human right to respect her home and family life.

The judge listened, determining that the inability for UK law to recognize a gender change and obtain the appropriate pension was discrimination, and required that the Department of Work and Pensions grant Timbrell pension as a woman, backdated from age 60.

The judge’s decision shows reasonable judgment and understanding of transgender people. The caveat in the Gender Recognition Act preventing gay marriages is unfair and illogical. What does someone’s marital status have to do with their gender?

Transgender people who were married before transitioning are placed in a horrible situation, forced to choose between their family and their identity. And while Timbrell succeeded in keeping her wife and getting equal pension benefits, married transgender people in the UK continue to face serious discrimination and harsh choices about keeping their family, or being true to themselves.

Photo credit: shrff

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