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Finland passes new, progressive trans rights laws on gender recognition

FILE: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin holds a rainbow flag as she takes part in the 2022 Helsinki Pride march in Helsinki, Finland, on July 2, 2022.
FILE: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin holds a rainbow flag as she takes part in the 2022 Helsinki Pride march in Helsinki, Finland, on July 2, 2022. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By David Mac DougallAP
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The legislation gained overwhelming support from all five parties in Sanna Marin's coalition government, as well as many opposition MPs.

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Finland has passed a new, progressive rights law which makes it substantially easier for trans people to change their legal gender. 

Prime Minister Sanna Marin had said the law was a priority for her government, and on Wednesday it was passed by a large majority in parliament with 113 votes for, 69 against. There were 17 MPs not present for the vote, but no abstentions. 

Politicians from Marin's five-party coalition government voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new legislation, although 13 Centre Party MPs voted against. The far-right Finns Party and religious Christian Democrats also opposed it.  

The new laws mean transgender people aged 18 and older can legally change their gender by a process of self-declaration, and no longer have to go through an onerous medical and psychiatric approval process first. 

Amendments also abolish a provision that required transgender people to provide a medical certificate proving they were infertile or sterilised before the government would recognise their gender identity. 

This part of the existing law was intended to keep transgender individuals from having children, and had been widely condemned by human rights groups for many years. 

"We were expecting the bill to pass, but in the last few weeks there has been an incredibly strong campaign against the law, especially anti-gender type of rhetoric," said Kerttu Tarjamo, secretary general of Seta, Finland's oldest and most respected LGBTQI+ rights organisation. 

Some of the arguments opponents of the new legislation used to try and stop it are familiar 'wedge issues' that have been deployed in other countries, like Scotland. 

"They said this will open the gates for cis-gendered men to harass women in changing rooms, they had arguments about prisons and tried to use the UK as an example," Tarjamo told Euronews. 

One of the potentially most controversial aspects of the legislation was whether to extend new trans rights provisions to 16 and 17-year-olds, who are considered minors in Finnish law. 

"At the last minute this was something that was not in the bill, and this is something which we are disappointed about, but we know there was strong support for more trans reform," Tarjamo explained. 

The new Finnish trans rights law has no impact on existing legislation in the Nordic nation which deals with medical confirming treatment for trans people -- something trans rights activists say was widely misunderstood even by the politicians who were voting on the proposals. 

"Opponents tried to use this, tried to mix up new laws about legal gender with the concept of gender reassignment treatment," said Kerttu Tarjamo. "But there are medical guidelines that regulate that, not this legislation." 

Spain approved legislation allowing gender changes by self-declaration last month, while the British government vetoed a similar bill that lawmakers in Scotland passed in December.

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