The Spousal Exit Clause: Trans Widows’s Rights Are Not Yours to Give Away

Misinformation abounds over the so-called ‘spousal veto’. Abolishing the spousal exit clause would mean an abandonment of trans widows.

By @transwidows

For clarity, this article uses correct sex pronouns.

As far as we know, the ink hasn’t even been taken out of the bottle on the government’s reform (or lack thereof) of the Gender Recognition Act, let alone dried, but already female socialisation, a well-intentioned desire to appear reasonable, and the imperative to be #bekind, is causing women to start to consider what concessions feminists can make going forward.

When you knew you had won the argument, but didn’t expect to win the battle, the thought of what might come next can be disorientating.

Women are used to pacifying angry males and children. We spend a large proportion of our life doing it, and we become skilled at it. We might give a child a lollipop to help them feel better after some kind of deprivation or disappointment. However as any Trade Unionist will tell you, whilst this might be a useful ploy in personal relationships or in parenting, it should not be how one conducts a negotiation.

As feminists start to plan the way forward in this strange new world, there is something they should not lose sight of. Following an impassioned debate over the proposals for reform of the GRA, which was entirely about the importance of maintaining the existing rights of women, now is not the time to start bartering other women’s rights away in order to make us feel less bad about upsetting our opponents. In particular the rights of Trans Widows. We’d quite like feminists to #bekind to us, please.

It has already been suggested that the Spousal Exit Clause (sometimes misnamed the Spousal Veto) in the Gender Recognition Act is something that could be got rid of, as a concession, particularly given the plans for “No Fault” divorce to (possibly) be introduced in England and Wales.

This suggestion leaves the trans widows standing on tiptoes, trying to be seen as we wave from the other side of Chesterton’s fence and ask why some feminists have missed us off their list of priorities again.

The Spousal Exit Clause has relentlessly been propagandised as a veto on transition, but you only have to read the actual law (something the MPs who wished to reform the Gender Recognition Act appear not to have done), in order to discover that this is not true.

If a married transitioner wants to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate he (and it usually is he), is first given an interim certificate which can only be converted to a full Gender Recognition Certificate once either the wife confirms she consents to the marriage continuing, or the marriage is annulled / dissolved.

An interim GRC holder can do anything they want, wear what they want, call themselves whatever they like, their transition is not prevented. They can change the sex marker on their passport and driving licence. The only thing that they cannot change without a full GRC is their birth certificate.

The absolute key issue here (imagine me spray painting it in six foot letters on Mr Chesterton’s fence) is that there is provision for an annulment, which enables those spouses who cannot get divorced for religious or cultural reasons to exit the marriage. Do not think that this is something that does not affect women who are part of cultures in this country that do not embrace gender change.

The Exit Clause also enables spouses to exit the marriage before, rather than after, its status potentially changes, and their heterosexual marriage legally becomes a same sex marriage that they didn’t sign up to. Why should history be rewritten to say that I married a woman? It would be legal conversion of my sexuality, and we’re against that sort of thing now.

Bearing this in mind, it can be seen that even the introduction of no fault divorce is not a replacement for the existing exit clause. That’s not to say that divorce is never used in this situation, it usually is. But we need to remember the women who cannot access it.

This relatively obscure, but very thoughtfully drafted piece of legislation, has received a disproportionate amount of attention from Trans Rights Activists. Why are they so concerned with this, that they have had to invent the myth of the abusive trans widow who spitefully delays her husband’s transition just because she can? (Not a shred of evidence is ever given of this). Why is the abolition of the Spousal Exit Clause an important part of Liberal Democrat Policy? Why was a bill introduced in the House of Lords to abolish it?

Why has the law already been changed in Scotland, without a murmur of support for trans widows? In Scotland, a trans widow’s right to exit the marriage before the status of the marriage changes has been replaced by a right to be notified by the Sheriff that a GRC is being granted.

Male entitlement plays a part – males must have agency and females must serve – but surely the real reason for the focus on the exit clause is because this neat little piece of law stands in the way of self-ID. A man cannot follow a legal path to self-identify as a woman, if at any stage he has to get the agreement of his pesky, inconvenient wife.

If the prospect of self-ID for Gender Recognition has really been thrown out in England and Wales, it will be interesting to see if the Spousal Exit Clause continues to get such a disproportionate amount of attention.

To find out more about trans widows, please visit our website.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you, @transwidows, for drawing attention to this important matter for the general public.
    The key thing is that you have reclaimed the language “spousal exit clause” to correctly describe it. You have revealed the original intention of those who drafted the GRA and this is the key to understanding why it still continues to matter.

    The longer I live as a Transwidow the more I fight any notion that I or any wife consents to a husband blundering his way into becoming a transsexual and thereby a social pariah. The spousal exit clause is a small part of that fight.

  2. This article is absolute tosh. I wish the trans widows and their website would just give it a rest. Yes it’s hard, yes some people can be @rses about transitioning, but at the end of the day you only get one life and some people choose to change. Move on. It’s far better for yourselves and everyone else to accept, adapt and move on. Why ruminate endlessly. Plus people, including women, should have the right to live their lives as they see fit and in privacy. No one should have a say over another person’s body or right to choose how they live. You could draw a parallel to abortion laws IMO, the spousal veto clause is akin to telling a woman she can’t have an abortion.
    So please stop with the angst and hate, rather focus on your own well being, your husband being trans is not your fault, it doesn’t mean you’re any less than than the fantastic woman you always were. Support each other positively instead of focusing on the negatives, hurt, anger, betrayal. You get one life, don’t stop living it for anyone. I tell you what, being rejected by your spouse for something you can’t do anything about and didn’t choose to be is just as hard. Seeing the light go out of their eyes, watch their love for you fade. Their love turn to revulsion as you try deal with your own world being turned upside down is also extremely tough. There are always two sides to a story, remember that and be happy.

    • Typical AGP behaviour. Silencing women because your feelings are hurt and you need to teach women a lesson that they can’t disagree with you. You need to actually listen to what these women are saying. You might learn something.

  3. If you didn’t enter into a same sex marriage, then it’s right that if your a Trans widow you can cancel the marriage before your partner changes sex.
    Surly that is what they want? to no longer be recognised as the person of the sex, who signed the legally binding document, as they claim it’s all about the new person they want to become.

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