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in brief: high court recognises third gender in NSW

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The Australian High Court has ruled in favour of a third gender category, now legally recognising ‘gender neutral’ in NSW, with Queensland and Victoria likely to follow.

The ruling comes after a Sydneysider won their case against the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to be granted a gender-non-specific birth certificate.

Norrie, born biologically male, underwent a sex reassignment to become female in the 1980s, however now does not feel the need to identify with either gender category. 

In 2010, Norrie was famously granted a world-first gender-neutral status, but this was revoked by the NSW government months later on the grounds that ‘unacceptable confusion would flow from the acceptance of more than two gender categories.’

On Wednesday in Canberra the court unanimously ruled in favour of Norrie, finding that the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry Act should ‘not require that people who, having undergone a sex affirmation procedure … must be registered, inaccurately, as one or the other.’

Currently in Australia, according to the 2013 Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, government departments that collect personal records must allow for a person to change their gender to ‘X’ if they provide certain documentation such as a medical statement and a travel document with the preferred gender.

While this historic ruling comes as a welcome step in the right direction for some in the trans*, intersex, and gender queer communities, Intersex International Australia president, Morgan Carpenter, says Norrie’s case may prove to be problematic for intersex people, claiming that ‘there is a risk that the case will assign us all to a third gender.’ In Carpenter’s view, many people born intersex would not wish to be categorised as a third gender.

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