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Corbett v Corbett

Corbett v Corbett [1970] 2 All ER 33 was a landmark legal case that changed transgender rights in the UK for the worse. It ended the routine, albeit unofficial, “correcting” of birth certificates to reflect the acquired gender of transitioned transsexual people and created a legal precedent that allowed the widespread practice of legal discrimination against transgender and intersex people throughout Britain.

Background

Corbett began as a divorce case at a time when the UK didn’t recognise mutual consent as reason enough to dissolve a marriage, so Arthur Corbett sought a method of dissolving his marriage to the model April Ashley without the issue of inheritance rights.

His case was brought under the premise that, as Ms Ashley was born male (and should therefore be treated as male in perpetuity despite her change of sex) the marriage was illegal. At the time, medical opinion on transsexuality was divided and no consensus on whether Ms Ashley should be legally seen as male or female could be reached.

Repercussions

As a consequence, the judge (Lord Justice Ormrod, who was himself a physician) created a medical “test” and definition to determine the legal status of April Ashley and, by extension, all transsexual people.

The result of this test (which defined Ms Ashley, a successful female model, as a man) was then taken up and used to define the sex of transsexual people for many purposes until the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The 2004 Act ultimately defined the sex of transsexual people as whatever is on their birth certificate until such point as a Gender Recognition Certificate corrects the birth certificate. Hence for those who do not possess such a certificate, nothing has changed since 1970.

As a result of Justice Ormrod’s decision, the unofficial correcting of birth certificates for transsexual and intersex people ceased, beginning more than 30 years of legal discrimination.

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