Marriage voided by ROM after sex change
In October 2015, a couple had solemnised their marriage as between a male and female. Shortly after, the male underwent a sex re-assignment surgery and legally amended his identity card to reflect “female” as of June 2016. They then lived as a married same-sex couple for the next eight months until February 2017, when the transgender woman and her partner was informed by the Registry of Marriages (“ROM”) that their marriage had been voided.
What does it mean to void a marriage?
Voiding a marriage has the effect of making it not legally valid, and marriage is annulled. Here is a more detailed explanation of void and voidable marriages in Singapore.
Void marriages between persons of the same sex
The Women’s Charter (Chapter 353) (“Women’s Charter”) serves as a code governing marriages in Singapore, with the exception of Muslim marriages which are governed by their own independent regime.
A marriage solemnized in Singapore will be void unless it was between a male and a female “at the date of the marriage”. The sex of any party to a marriage is presumed to be the sex indicated on the identity card. People who have undergone a sex-reassignment procedure will be identified as being of their new re-assigned sex.
Sex change after marriage
In this case, the sex re-assignment surgery had only occurred after the solemnization of the couple’s marriage.
A plain reading of the Women’s Charter suggests that the couple’s marriage could be valid since they were wedded as a male and female on the date of their marriage. Assuming there were no other reasons for voiding the marriage, the ROM appears to have taken the opposite stance, namely that the parties to a marriage have to remain man and woman.
Unfortunately, the Women’s Charter does not explicitly cover such a scenario, where one of the parties changes sex subsequently.
In the UK
The position regarding sex re-assignment surgery during the course of an otherwise legally recognised marriage is far from clear, particularly in countries where same-sex marriages are not legalised.
In the UK, on which Singapore has modelled the legal system, same-sex marriage is now recognised, and gender can be changed within a marriage as long as there is spousal consent.
Before same-sex marriage was recognised in the UK, a person who was married would only receive an interim gender recognition certificate which did not change their legally-recognised gender but, first, entitled them to have their marriage annulled after which a full gender recognition certificate would follow.
It is important to note that civil partnerships are recognised in England, thus the idea was that a married person who has had sex re-assignment could have the marriage annulled and subsequently enter into a civil partnership with their former spouse, thus enjoying a form of legal recognition.
Ultimately, in Singapore, it may take a legal challenge in the court for more clarity in this area.