European Court Says Forcing Trans People to Divorce Isn’t a Human Rights Violation

The European Court has ruled that member nations that do not recognize same-sex marriage can compel transgender people to divorce their partners if they wish to have their gender identities legally recognized.

The ruling was a blow for Finnish customs official Heli Hämäläinen and her wife, who have a 12-year-old child together and simply want to enjoy their marriage, even if the Finnish government doesn’t approve of it. She’s been battling the legal system since 2009, fighting for recognition of her gender. Despite suing on the grounds that forcing her to divorce would constitute discrimination, a violation of privacy and a violation of the right to marry. Hämäläinen’s case was denied, and the court made it clear that it didn’t think she had experienced a human rights violation.

In defense of the ruling, the court argued that it could not compel member nations of the EU to recognize same-sex marriage if they didn’t do so already, and that forcing them to allow transgender people to remain legally married while also being legally recognized by the correct gender would be tantamount to doing just that. Furthermore, the court claimed, because Hämäläinen and her wife could enter what’s known as a registered partnership, which offers many of the same protections and benefits of marriage (akin to a US civil union), they weren’t being deprived of equal rights in Finnish society.

Hämäläinen, and transgender advocates, feel differently. She and her wife have had a long, loving marriage, and their Christian faith prohibits divorce, making it an untenable option for them. Marriage and a registered partnership are not the same thing, which is precisely why she and her wife opted to marry 18 years ago rather than seeking registration. Furthermore, it’s incredibly dehumanizing to force transgender people to either divorce, or remain stuck with the wrong gender on their legal documentation.

For Hämäläinen, the issue was particularly acute, because it interfered with her career, too. As a customs official, she needs to be able to travel, and having the wrong gender marker in her passport and government identification documents made it impossible to apply for some consular jobs and positions. For an official working in foreign trade, this is a serious problem — and the solution shouldn’t be to tell her to legally break with her wife so she can be legally recognized as the woman she is.

Finland’s requirements for legal recognition of transgender people also include a psychiatric assessment and proof of sterilization. These burdensome requirements have been dropped by many nations around the world, which recognize them as invasive human rights violations — after all, cis people don’t need to prove their gender through medical and psychiatric examinations. Hämäläinen makes it clear that she intends to continue celebrating her wedding anniversaries and her bond with her wife, and that though the implications of the decision are that she must divorce to be called “she” and “her,” she rejects the ruling’s definition of her relationship.

Elsewhere in Europe, activists are working on the so-called “spousal veto” in effect in England and Wales, which humiliatingly forces transgender people to get the signature of their spouses if they wish to have their gender legally recognized. If a spouse doesn’t approve a gender change, an applicant must divorce.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Christine V.
Christine V3 years ago

umm, yes it is

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago


Vicky P.
Vicky P3 years ago


Jan L.
Past Member 3 years ago

Again the far right wins! What a shame.

Maria Teresa Schollhorn


Tom Attwood
Tom Attwood3 years ago

Unbelieveably, the Catholic church is a step ahead to the courts for once. When clergy of other faiths convert to Catholiscm, if they happen to be married their marriage is recognized and allowed, despite the fact that Catholic priests are forbidden to marry. The church would never demand someone divorce as a REQUIREMENT for anything. However, they do lag on the Transgender issue in that they do not recognize the condition. The church believes that you are the sex determined by the parts you were born with and will remain so even after full gender reassignment surgery ... in the eyes of the church. They do council divorce when a marriage becomes untenable for one or both partners due to physical/mental abuse, your spouse coming out and wanting out. They do view the divorce as civil only and both are still considered married in the eyes of the church ...if you were married "before God" , Catholic or not ... married in the eyes of God is permanant and cannot be undone ever. Those who think about annulments in these situations must realize that an annulment is a declaration that the requirements for a couple to marry did not exist at the time the marriage was performed which means you were never married at all. It is not a disolution of the marriage it is a statement the marriage was void and did not take place in the eyes of God ... has no legal effect on any children in that voided marriage, they are still legitmate. So many rules....

Anne Moran
Anne M3 years ago

To the people that make up the European Court,, : 'Get a life' !!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons3 years ago

"proof of sterilization" There is no reason to be sterilized simply to become a transgender. Let whoever wants to marry get married. Whats the big deal? Why all the fascination with what is in every one elses pants.

Barbara L.
Past Member 3 years ago

Sigh. No one should be forced to divorce or marry. Good grief. That should be a personal decision between two consenting adults. Period.

M Quann
M Q3 years ago