From Iceland — Parliament Expediting Changes To Gender Law In Response To National Registry Decision

Parliament Expediting Changes To Gender Law In Response To National Registry Decision

Published December 13, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Timothée Lambrecq/Alda Vigdís Skarphéðinsdóttir

Parliament has just introduced an amendment to the gender determination law last summer that specifically adds one sentence, and appears to apply to the case of a trans woman who has been denied proper name and gender registration by the National Registry. However, the argument can be made that the amendment is unnecessary, as the original law should be clear enough.

Residency and rights

The amendment, which may be passed as early as before Parliament’s holiday break begins, adds a single sentence to the existing law: “Icelandic citizens who live abroad have the right to change the registration of their gender and name.”

This amendment appears to refer directly to the case of Alda Vigdís Skarphéðinsdóttir, an Icelandic citizen with a legal address in Germany, who was denied the right to change her name and gender marker by the National Registry last September on the grounds that she lives abroad.

Alda says it is relieving to see this initiative coming from Parliament, but discussing the matter with the Grapevine, she says she can’t help but to think that putting pressure on the Ministry of Transport to rule in her appeal case as soon as possible would have been a more logical first step.

“It’s great to see that Parliament is showing this initiative and adding a clearer language to the legal code, and I will re-apply as soon as the bill passes,” Alda says. “However, I will not withdraw my appeal case and will bring it further if dismissed, as I am certain that the National Registry broke the current version of the law and that has caused me irreversible harm and distress.”

“This individual has the right to change the registration of both their name and gender at the National Registry, as is stated in the law.”

However, the original of the language of the law states clearly that the only conditions for being able to make such changes in the Registry is that a person be at least 18 years old.

The spirit of the law and contradictions

The National Registry has argued that Alda must change her registration in Germany in order to change it in Iceland—a service that the German government does not provide residents in that country. Further, in a written statement to The Grapevine, Director General of the National Registry Margrét Hauksdóttir said in part that “it is a principle under international civil law that matters pertaining to the personal rights of individuals are under the auspices of the government of the country where a person is legally registered. … This is a main principle that does not need to be established in law, i.e., it applies unless otherwise stated.”

This interpretation not only raises questions about what rights by Icelandic law any Icelandic citizens have if they happen to have a legally registered address in another country. This interpretation can also be dangerous for trans Icelanders, and force them to comply with conditions in other countries which would be illegal under Iceland’s gender determination law. Most countries in Europe require that a trans person obtains a “mental health diagnosis” in order to change their names and legally registered gender, and some countries—including 13 in Europe—require forced sterilisation. Both of these requirements are expressly forbidden in Iceland.

Further, the National Registry was one of the many orgs who participated in the crafting of the bill in the first place, and never raised such concerns about how the law might affect the principle they cite.

Misapplied principle

The Grapevine spoke with lawyer Gísli Tryggvason on the matter, who has been working closely with Alda on this case. He told us he believes that the principle of domicile the National Registry is citing is based on a misinterpretation of it. As he points out, the principle of domicile only applies when different jurisdictions clash, such as in the case of child custody or inheritance rights. As Alda is the only party in this case, he argues, the principle of domicile does not apply.

Furthermore, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir—who introduced the gender determination law to Parliament, told Stundin that “it seems to me this individual has the right to change the registration of both their name and gender at the National Registry, as is stated in the law. Although there are limits [e.g. this change can only be made once, barring special circumstances], I believe the spirit of the law is completely clear.”

This amendment, which comes from the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee and is therefore likely to pass, is slated to be introduced to Parliament today.

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