Hungary's top court throws out retroactive gender change ban

* Ongoing gender changes must be recognised legally

* New cases still banned but legal challenge mounts

* Hungary’s ruling party increasingly homophobic

BUDAPEST, March 12 (Reuters) - Hungary’s Constitutional Court on Friday said it had thrown out a government bid to stop people who have changed gender being recognised in official documents, an issue that pitched the ruling conservative Fidesz party against liberal critics.

Anyone beginning the transition after the May 2020 legislation remains unable to win recognition for the change, but activists said multiple legal challenges had been filed and they were encouraged by Friday’s decision.

The right-wing nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces elections in 2022, is increasingly hostile to LGBTQ people, as is Poland’s ruling PiS party, Orban’s ally.

Orban redefined marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the Constitution, and limited gay adoption.

Hungary also outlawed legal status for all transgender people, including for people who had already made the switch - retroactive legislation that the court deemed unconstitutional. LGBTQ rights group Hatter estimates there could be dozens of such cases.

Hatter spokesman Tamas Dombos said new legal procedures were still banned, adding there were dozens of challenges in court concurrently against the bill, including some against the entire ban.

He said intense debate and a close vote preceded the Constitutional Court decision, meaning there was a chance that the whole bill could be overturned later this year.

The ruling passed despite six of 14 justices articulating dissenting opinions.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but this is encouraging,” Dombos said.

In a dissenting opinion attached to the ruling Justice Imre Juhasz acknowledged that name change was still a fundamental rights issue. “Name change in connection to gender change is based on human identity and the sanctity of equal human dignity,” he wrote.

Tamara Csillag, a transgender woman whose legal transition was halted last year, was unsure the bill would be reversed. She accepted the status quo last year and married her transgender sweetheart, who had already been recognised as a woman.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” she said. “For me it’s doubtful as I am married now. But it will be a tough fight as Fidesz has turned the constitution inside out.” (Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; editing by Philippa Fletcher)