The BBC News reported on Friday that Germany has become the first European country to allow babies born with both male and female characteristics to be registered as neither gender on birth certificates.
The new German law is groundbreaking and part of an effort in the country to create legal recognition for intersex individuals: children born without clearly determinable male or female genitalia. Statistics show that 1 in every 1,500 babies are born without clearly identifiable male or female physical characteristics and often do not develop those characteristics until later in life. By providing an option to not select either gender on the birth record, the pressure is taken off parents to commit themselves and their child to a gender immediately after birth.
University of Bremen law professor Konstanze Plett spoke with the Huffington Post about the new German law, saying that
This will be the first time that the law acknowledges that there are human beings who are neither male nor female, or are both [ . . . ] We will have fellow human beings with no sex registered. They can’t be forced into either one of the traditional sexes in these other contexts.”
Germany is not the first country to provide options for identifying gender on official documents. Earlier this year in Australia, a Sydney court case set a precedent by ruling that a person does not have to be registered as male or female. Countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, and Nepal all recognize transgender or intersex people and allow “third gender” options on official documents like passports.
While the chance of a baby being born with characteristics of both genders is relatively rare, it is still a reality and puts the parents of such children into an extremely difficult position if they are required to choose a gender too quickly in order for the child to be properly registered. In some circumstances, surgery is performed on an intersex baby to turn its physical characteristics as far as possible in one direction or the other, creating the potential for problems in the future as the child may develop traits and characteristics of the opposite gender it has been assigned.
Some have wondered what effect the new gender law will have on marriage and partnership laws in Germany, while others have voiced concerns that the new legislation doesn’t do enough, particularly in regards to surgeries and other medical issues associated with intersex individuals.