Corbett v Corbett

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The case of Corbett v Corbett, heard in November and December 1969 with a February 1970 decision, is a divorce case which set a legal precedent regarding the status of transsexual people in the United Kingdom. It was brought at a time when the UK didn't recognise mutual consent as reason enough to dissolve a marriage and Arthur Corbett, the plaintiff, sought a method of dissolving his marriage to the model April Ashley who had brought a petition under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1965 for maintenance.

His case was brought under the premise that Ashley was a man, despite her change of gender. The Court ruled that the marriage was void ab initio. A very full range of medical opinion on transsexuality was consulted by the Court. The judge (Lord Justice Ormrod, who was himself a medical man) created a medical 'test' and definition to determine the legal status of April Ashley. Ormrod set out four criteria for determining 'sex': (i) Chromosomal factors; (ii) Gonadal factors (ie presence or absence of testes or ovaries); (iii) Genital factors (including internal sex organs); (iv) Psychological factors. Transsexualism was deemed to fall under 'Psychological factors'.

The Court ruled that it was impossible to change sex, and plainly distinguished legal statuses for which gender, which could change, was appropriate (e.g. National Insurance) from those for which sex was the determining category, amongst which marriage was the most prominent, it being stated that marriage was necessarily between a man and a woman (both defined according to sex rather than gender). The ruling was then taken up and used to define the sex of transsexual people for many purposes until the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (which ultimately defined the sex of transsexual people as whatever is on their birth certificate, until such point as a Gender Recognition Certificate corrects the birth certificate - hence for those who do not possess such a certificate, nothing has changed since 1970).

As a result of Justice Ormrod's decision, the unofficial correcting of birth certificates for transsexual and intersex people ceased.

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