The German Cabinet has approved a plan to make it easier for people to legally change name, gender

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, speaks with German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann during the cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a plan to make it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official documents, legislation that the justice minister said aims to make life easier for “a small group for which it has great significance.”

The legislation still needs approval by parliament. It is one of several reform plans that Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition of three socially liberal parties has embarked on, and has been criticized by the conservative opposition.

Under the planned “self-determination law,” which has been in the works for over a year, adults would be able to change their first name and legal gender at registry offices without further formalities. They would have to notify the registry office three months before making the change.

The existing “transsexual law,” which dates back four decades, currently requires individuals who want to change gender on official documents to first obtain assessments from two experts “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” and then a court decision.

Over the years, Germany’s top court has struck down other provisions that required transgender people to get divorced and sterilized, and to undergo gender-transition surgery.

“Imagine that you ... simply want to live your life and you don't wish anyone anything bad, and then you're questioned about what your sexual fantasies are, what underwear you wear and similar things,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told ZDF television. “Those affected have found this questioning very degrading.”

“Now we simply want to make life a bit easier for a small group for which it has great significance,” he added.

The proposed legislation focuses on individuals’ legal identities. It does not involve any revisions to Germany’s rules for gender-transition surgery.

The new rules allow minors 14 years and older to change their name and legal gender with approval from their parents or guardians; if they don’t agree, teenagers could ask a family court to overrule them.

In the case of children under 14, parents or guardians would have to make registry office applications on their behalf.

Asked about concerns that young people could make premature decisions, Buschmann said he is “firmly convinced that the overwhelming majority of parents will ask themselves very seriously and carefully: what is the best thing for my child?”

After a formal change of name and gender takes effect, no further changes would be allowed for a year.

Under the new legislation, operators of, for example, gyms and changing rooms for women would continue to decide who has access, Buschmann said. He added experiences elsewhere have shown that “as a rule, this is not a practical problem; nonetheless, we have resolved it to address the concerns of those who were concerned about it.”Spain's parliament in February passed a law that allows people over 16 years of age to change their legally registered gender without any medical supervision.

In the U.K., the Scottish parliament in December passed a bill that would allow people aged 16 or older to change the gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. That was vetoed by the British government; Scotland's first minister has vowed to challenge that decision.