Transgender rights supporters protest in favour of Scottish gender reform bill outside Downing Street in London Jan. 17, 2023. A spokesman for Scotland's Catholic Church has welcomed the British government's veto of legislation allowing teenagers to change their sex in legal documentation via a simple self-declaration, and criticized Scottish politicians' "obsession with gender politics." OSV News photo/Henry Nicholls, Reuters

Scottish church condemns government's 'gender obsession' after rare reform veto

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, OSV News
  • January 19, 2023

A spokesman for Scotland's Catholic Church has welcomed the British government's veto of legislation allowing teenagers to change their legally documented sex via a simple self-declaration, and criticized Scottish politicians' "obsession with gender politics."

"We didn't support this bill, and we were against clauses which have now been questioned by the U.K. government," said Peter Kearney, director of the church's Catholic Media Office.

"There's no reason to think Catholics in Scotland don't share the opinion of the wider public, most of whom are uncomfortable and unhappy with the measure. The fact it's been stopped, no matter by whom, is something the majority will welcome," he said.

The Glasgow-based lay Catholic was reacting to confirmation by the Westminster government that it was blocking the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, passed by the Scottish Parliament in December, fearing the measure conflicted with other laws in the United Kingdom.

In a Jan. 18 interview with OSVNews, he said surveys suggested most Scots opposed the bill, which also would reduce the waiting time for changing sex in legal documentation from two years to three months, and would lose interest as it became mired in rival court actions.

"It's frankly bewildering that the governing Scottish National Party seems so obsessed with progressive gender politics," Kearney told OSVNews.

"The number of people affected in any way -- for example, by transgender issues -- is vanishingly small, whereas significant majorities aren't in favor of these changes. So it's difficult to understand why the government continues to plow this furrow without public support," he said.

The bill, passed in the Edinburgh parliament Dec. 22 by 89 votes to 39, allows Scottish residents 16 and older to change their legal sex, without consulting a doctor or obtaining a gender dysphoria diagnosis, through a Gender Recognition Certificate overriding the sex recorded on birth and marriage documents.

Members of the Scottish Parliament rejected amendments which would have added safeguards against sex offenders, drawing criticism from women's groups and Scotland's Council on Human Bioethics and Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as a former Labour Party leader Johann Lamont, who branded the bill "one of the most dangerous and misguided" in Scottish history.

However, in a Jan. 17 letter, the UK government's Secretary for Scotland, Alister Jack, said he was withholding the bill from final royal assent, believing it trespassed into areas reserved for central British laws, including a 2010 Equality Act.

Responding to the veto, the first since the Scottish Parliament convened for the first time in 1999, Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the bill would have made gender transitioning "less degrading, intrusive and traumatic," and vowed her government would defend it against Westminster's "full-frontal attack."

The reforms were criticized as "overriding biological reality" in an Oct. 21 statement by the Scottish bishops' Catholic Parliamentary Office, which said the church would not "recognise any legitimate prerogative of the state to redefine in law what is male and female."

In a separate Dec. 19 statement, the Bishops' Conference of Scotland warned the removal of medical oversight risked undermining "crucial health care, support and protection for vulnerable individuals, including children."

The conference added that women's safety also would be endangered by "men self-declaring as female and accessing women-only spaces," and said children should be "protected from making permanent legal declarations about their gender identity which may prove irreversible."

"The church is pastorally sensitive to the experience of those who desire to have a body and identity other than their biological sex -- they are to be met with compassion and a particular care and support in the challenges and distress that come with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria," the Scottish bishops said.

The dispute is the latest of many between Scotland's nationalist government and the Catholic Church, which dates its presence from a mission by St. Ninian in A.D. 397 and makes up around 16% of the population of 5.25 million, spread across eight dioceses and some 500 parishes.

In his OSV News interview, Peter Kearney said controversy over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill could require final settlement by Britain's Supreme Court, and looked set to fuel wider political conflicts between Westminster and the Scottish government, which is demanding a fresh referendum on national independence.

"Whether this is a motivating factor or not, there's certainly no clear evidence that the obsession with gender politics has any wider benefit for Scotland's society or economy,"  Kearney told OSV News.

"If this becomes a dispute, as seems likely, over the boundaries of devolved power, it will involve technical, arcane arguments -- and by the time it gets through the courts, I doubt the majority of Scots will even want to engage with it." 

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