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How Germany's 'self-determination law' will make it easier for people to change their gender

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How Germany's 'self-determination law' will make it easier for people to change their gender
A man with a rainbow-colored beard takes part in the Pride Parade. Germany's Self-Determination Act would allow transgender people to legally change their gender identity more easily. Photo: picture alliance / Jonathan Brady

To change their gender in Germany's registry offices, people navigate high hurdles. The government has changed this with a new law on self-determination, which the Bundestag passed on Friday.

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On Friday the Bundestag passed new rules for gender changes at the registry office.

The self-determination act makes it easier for someone in Germany to change their gender entry and first name officially. To do so, they can now simply submit a declaration to the registry office. There is no longer a requirement for a medical certificate, expert opinion or court order.

The self-determination act only affects the process for changing genders with the registry. It does not make any provisions for physical interventions, such as hormone therapies or gender reassignment surgery.

Who does the Self-Determination Act affect and when does it apply?

According to the Family Affairs Ministry the act was drafted with three groups of people in mind: transgender, intersex and non-binary people. 

Transgender people – also known as trans people – often do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and may live with the feeling of being in the "wrong body". Intersex people, on the other hand, have physical characteristics that cannot be clearly classified as male or female, which can also affect the set of chromosomes or hormone production. Non-binary people are defined by not feeling like they belong to any gender.

According to Germany’s Office of Justice, 3,232 people proceeded with gender entry changes in 2021. The press office for  Sven Lehmann,, the government's representative for the rights of the LGBTQ community, said they expect about 4,000 declarations per year going forward.

The new procedure will apply from November 1st 2024 under current government plans. 

READ ALSO: Germany set to simplify gender change procedure 

What’s wrong with the current law?

Until now, official gender identity changes were governed by the Transsexual Act of 1980, which will become obsolete with the new law. 

Under the previous law, people who wanted to change their legally registered genders had to endure a lengthy and costly procedure, which included getting an expert opinion and court order, if they wanted to have their gender entry and first name changed. 

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Until 2011, transgender people even had to be sterilised for this purpose. 

The Federal Government's Queer Commissioner, Sven Lehmann, says the current legal situation violates human dignity. The German Psychotherapists' Association has also been advocating removing these hurdles for some time.

What are the age limits for changing the gender entry?

Minors under the age of 14 are not allowed to submit the declaration to the registry office themselves. Instead, it needs to be submitted by a legal representative in this case. 

Minors who are 14 or older, can submit the declaration to the registry office themself, but also need the consent of their legal representative. 

When one’s legal representative disagrees, the case could be challenged in the family court. If both parents have custody and cannot come to an agreement, they are required to make a decision in the best interests of the child. Otherwise, the family court can decide a solution.

Adults can submit the declaration themselves, without the need for further consent or consultation. However, a change is only possible once a year at most.

Names are generally changed along with gender

A person’s first name is expected to be changed along with their gender identity – unless their current first name also matches the new gender.

According to the law, the first name is still expected to correspond to the gender entry. For example, if you choose the entry "male", you will not be able to enter Bettina or Julia as your name. 

Overall, there is still a choice between "male", "female" and "diverse". 

Those affected may also choose not to provide gender information. A separate change of the first name without changing the gender entry is not possible on the basis of the law on self-determination.

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Why is the law controversial?

Protests against the law change have been bubbling up in the last few years, especially from the conservative spectrum. 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party wants to introduce a motion in the Bundestag this Friday, in which it calls for even greater hurdles than before for those affected. 

Some critics have suggested that the law could create incentives to have someone's gender entry arbitrarily adjusted for nefarious purposes. Berliner Zeitung reported that the deputy chairwoman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Andrea Lindholz, said: "From November, it will be possible to change one's identity with a simple declaration in front of the registry office and the security authorities will not know about this."

Those affected categorically reject this portrayal and point out that no one takes this path voluntarily.

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