Norrie ruling: High Court recognises third category of non specific gender
The High Court has ruled on the NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie. The case was brought by Sydney resident Norrie May Welby, who after undergoing gender reassignment surgery in the 80s, now identifies as neither male or female and wanted to be registered as a non specific sex.
The High Court has ruled in favour of Norrie who wished to be identified as a non-specified sex on registry documents.
Norrie originally applied to have gender status removed and replaced with 'non-specified' on registry documents in 2010. After initially being approved the decision was revoked as it was suggested it was beyond the scope of the law.
Norrie challenged the decision in the NSW Court of Appeal and won, but the Registry went to the High Court to have this decision overturned. With the High Court’s ruling today, Norrie finally won the battle to be known as gender non-specific.
The case has been watched closely by intersex advocacy groups who initially expressed alarm that Norrie’s petition to be identified as neither male nor female could have ramifications for the nation’s intersex people.
Organisation Intersex International (OII) said Intersex people are recognised by international, national and State/Territory bodies as being born with biological sex characteristics, including genetic, hormonal or anatomical differences, that are not typically male or female. Intersex is about biology, not gender identity.
The High Courts ruling which includes a judegement summary that appears to recognise the diversity of intersex people seems to have alleviated some of these fears.
"It appears from the Judgement Summary that the High Court has recognised diversity in intersex people, and has chosen the neutral term, “non-specific” to describe Norrie’s gender. We are greatly relieved by this welcome decision," OII said in a media statement. "We welcome this assessment. We hope that the media will respect the difference between intersex and transgender, and acknowledge Norrie’s gender classification as “non-specific”.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said the decision was of profound importance, given that identity documents such as birth certificates were an important foundation for ensuring equal recognition before the law for gender diverse and intersex people.
“Sex and gender diverse people face problems every day accessing services and facilities that most Australians can use without thinking twice. It’s essential that our legal systems accurately reflect and accommodate the reality of sex and gender diversity that exists in our society, and the High Court has taken an enormous leap today in achieving that goal,” said Brown.
The Executive Director of A Gender Agenda (AGA), Samuel Rutherford, said the High Court’s decision recognising that “transgender” and “intersex” were not appropriate categories was a relief for gender diverse and intersex people.
AGA’s submission to the court represented a broader group of people affected by this case, whose needs and interests may not have otherwise been raised in the arguments put before the Court.
“This a fantastic decision for gender diverse and intersex people, who simply want to be recognised for who they are. The High Court has also recognised it would be inappropriate for a third category to be labelled “intersex, which means they understood that intersex people often identify as male or female," said Rutherford.
The ACT recently passed a law recognising a gender category other than male or female, NSW will now be the only other state to recognise a third option.
[Image] Norrie May-Welby. Photo: John McRae