Transgender who challenged government’s intransigence to be honoured

Joanne Cassar, whose battle against Maltese state's refusal to allow her to marry man led to amendments in marriage law, to be honoured for Republic Day.

Joanne Cassar
Joanne Cassar

Transgender woman Joanne Cassar, who filed a legal challenge against the Maltese government in the European Court of Human Rights for refusing her the right to marry her boyfriend after having had gender reassignment, is to be honoured in today's Republic Day Gieh ir-Repubblika ceremony.

The Labour government relinquished the case in the European Court and presented amendments to the Civil Code under which transgender people re now considered as individuals of the acquired sex with full rights, including the right to marry.

Cassar herself announced her nomination on her own Facebook wall, which is to take place two days before her engagement to her fiancé.

The right of transgender persons to marry was firmly established in a preceding case dating back to 2002 - Christine Goodwin vs. the United Kingdom - where the ECtHR held that it found no justification for barring transsexuals from enjoying the right to marry under any circumstances.

Cassar's ordeal began in 2006, when - after undergoing a complex and expensive procedure to change her sex from male to female, and having her birth certificate amended accordingly - she was refused permission to marry on the basis that the Marriage Act prohibited unions between persons of the same gender.

Cassar took the Marriage Registrar to court, and on February 12 2007, after noting that the proposed union did not contravene any provision of the Marriage Act, Mr Justice Gino Camilleri upheld her request and ordered the director of Public Registry to issue the marriage banns.

But the marriage registrar appealed, and in his decision to overturn the ruling last May, Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef observed that while the Marriage Act defined marriage as a union "between a man and a woman", Maltese law offered no legal definition of either gender.

The court therefore took into account various definitions, including an affidavit signed by the former chairman of the parliamentary bio-ethics committee, Dr Michael Axiak, who wrote: "after gender reassignment therapy, a person will have remained of the same sex as before the operation."

Mr Justice Micallef also noted that Cassar's birth certificate, allowing a change of name and gender, was only intended to protect the right to privacy and to avoid embarrassment. He therefore upheld the marriage registrar's request, and annulled the marriage banns.

Afterwards, Cassar expressed bitter disappointment at the ruling. "One court allowed me to get married but another took it away from me," she said.

Cassar went on to file a case against Malta in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - an initiative she would later admit had financially crippled her.

Representing government, the Attorney General filed submissions arguing that the reassigned gender on Cassar's State-issued identity card was intended only to "spare her embarrassment", and was not meant to entitle Cassar to legal privileges associated with the female gender.

# good to see a closed Maltese culture finally opening up to introverted thinking, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Admittedly there's always a war between those who believe there's a war 'n those who believe there is'nt. But forget not that being a reindeer is okay. That bullying and excluding another reindeer because of a shiny red nose. IS NOT OKAY!! HAPPY XMAS YALL GOOD CHILDREN OF GOD