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European court rejects intersex birth certificate plea

January 31, 2023

A French individual has failed in their bid to have their birth certificate reflect their status as intersex. The European Court of Human Rights ruled authorities were not violating the law in rejecting the request.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France
The court ruled against an intersex individual and said such administrrative matters were up to the French state to deterrmineImage: Winfried Rothermel/picture alliance

The European Court of Human Rights rejected a challenge to French law Tuesday by an individual who sought to have their birth certificate changed to recognize them as intersex.

The Strasbourg court said French authorities had not violated the European Convention on Human Rights in rejecting the individual's request. The court is part of the Council of Europe, which works to protect human rights in its 46 member states and is not part of the EU.

Intersex people defy gender norms of male or female and are often born with these characteristics.

Intersex – Redefining Gender

Who brought the case?

A person born in 1951 who is identified as male on his birth certificate brought forth the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Medical certificates indicate that the individual was biologically determined to be intersex not long after birth and this status had not been altered.

For these reasons, they sought to remove "male" from their birth certificate and see it replaced with either "neutral" or "intersex."

A court in Tours, France, agreed to a reassignment on the person's birth certificate. However, that decision was overturned by an appeals court in Orleans and an additional high court dismissed an appeal. And now the European Court of Human Rights has backed that decision.

What did the decision say?

The court did acknowledge in a statement, "the discrepancy between the applicant's biological identity and his legal identity was liable to cause him suffering and anxiety."

The court noted that French authorities had not violated the private or family life of the intersex individual at the center of the case.

The need for a reliable administrative sorting of gender status was foremost in the court's decision. If a "neutral" or "intersex" gender status were to be introduced, the move would have to follow France's procedures and therefore come through the French Parliament.

If the judges had agreed to the change, the rights court argued that it would have performed a normative role that belongs to the state and its legislators and the society more broadly. The court ruled the administrative pace of such changes was up to France.

ar/nm (dpa, KNA)

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe.