Neither man nor woman

Last updated 13:41 02/04/2014

VICTORY: Norrie May-Welby has fought to win the right to identify as neither a man nor a woman.

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The High Court of Australia has given people who do not identify as male or female formal legal recognition.

In an historic decision with far-reaching implications for institutions and individuals across the country, the Court on Wednesday formally upheld the right of transgender person Norrie to be registered as neither a man nor a woman with the NSW registry of births, deaths and marriages.

The decision is recognition by the highest court in the land that 'sex' is not binary - it is not only 'male' or 'female' - and that this should be recognised by the law and in basic legal documents.

"The question in this appeal is whether it was within the registrar's power to record in the register that the sex of the respondent, Norrie, was, as she said in her application, 'non specific'," the High Court said in its reasons for the decision.

"That question should be answered in the affirmative."

The case began in 2010 when Norrie, who identifies as neuter and uses only a first name, became the first person in NSW to be neither man nor woman in the eyes of the government with a formal "sex not specified" registration.

But four months later the registry wrote to Norrie, who is from Redfern in Sydney, saying the change had been "issued in error" and was invalid.

"It was completely unproblematic for a month - the world didn't collapse, the sky didn't fall in, human life continued," Norrie told Fairfax late last year.

"Then it was on the front page and they suddenly said: 'Oh, no, we couldn't possibly do that!"'

Norrie appealed the decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but the case was dismissed.

Norrie then went to the NSW Court of Appeal, where the three-judge appeal panel unanimously declared that "as a matter of construction ... the word sex does not bear a binary meaning of 'male' or 'female".'

But the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages did not accept the decision, appealing the matter to the High Court at great expense to NSW taxpayers.

The High Court ordered that Norrie's applications be sent back to the Registrar for determination in accordance with its reasons and otherwise dismissed the Registrar's appeal.

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- Sydney Morning Herald


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