Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill: Allowing self-identification of gender

On 9 December 2021, Parliament unanimously passed the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill. This Bill allows those who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth to correct this themselves, without the involvement of the Family Court.

In its original form, the Bill was primarily administrative and aimed to improve access to birth, death, and marriage records, while also modernising the language of the existing legislation. However, after the first reading of the Bill the Select Committee recommended that changes should also be made to the process for self-identification of a person’s sex on their birth certificate.

The current process requires people wanting to make these changes to apply to the Family Court and prove they have started irreversible medical treatment to conform with the sex they want recorded. As outlined in many of the submissions in favour of the Bill, this process is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it is costly, time consuming and places undue weight on whether someone has started medically transitioning.

Accordingly, the Bill abolishes this process and replaces it with a more streamlined and less invasive version, allowing anyone to declare their correct gender by way of statutory declaration, so long as it is witnessed by someone qualified to do so.

This is an important change. It will remove significant barriers for gender diverse people, while also alleviating pressure on the courts and health professionals involved in the current process allowing them to focus their resources elsewhere. 

The new process is also in keeping with the current processes to change gender markers on other forms of identification such as passports and drivers’ licenses, but it does not automatically update these documents at the same time. They still must be amended separately.  The new process is also more consistent with international human rights and follows in the footsteps of countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Argentina, and Columbia.

It should be noted that these changes currently only apply to people born in New Zealand. People born overseas who now live in New Zealand and want to change their birth certificate will still be required to go through the existing process. The position of those born overseas was considered by the Committee, but it was decided that a separate solution was required. The majority of the provisions in the Bill, including those relating to self-identification, will come into force in mid-2023. In the meantime, please reach out to one of our health law team if you or anyone you know needs help with the current process or if you have any questions about these matters.

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