July 19, 2017 / 11:47 AM / 8 months ago

Sex change prompts Singapore to annul couple's marriage

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Singapore has annulled the marriage of a transgender woman and her partner, in a case that has sparked accusations of discrimination against the LGBT community.

The unidentified couple were married as man and woman in October 2015 before the husband had a sex change surgery to become a female, according to local daily the Straits Times.

But their marriage was voided by officials in February after the couple, who were applying for a government-subsidized flat available for married couples, informed authorities of the sex change, the report added.

Same-sex union is not recognized in Singapore, a city-state famous for its strict social rules.

OutRight Action International, a New York-based group that campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights globally, described the move as unprecedented and unacceptable.

“This is a blatant discrimination by two government departments that are undermining the rights to family and housing eligible to heterosexual married couples,” its Asia program coordinator Grace Poore said.

“Singapore’s insistence that transgender people must remain in heterosexual relationships denies transgender people the right to be gay or lesbian, which is completely unacceptable.”

Singapore’s Registry of Marriages refused to confirm details of the case, but said local laws only recognized a marriage between a man and a woman.

“At the point of marriage, a couple must be man and woman, and must want to be and want to remain as man and woman in the marriage,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Transgender people who have undergone sex changes can legally change their gender on official documents in Singapore.

But campaigners said despite this legal recognition, transgender people still face a wide range of social stigma, from difficulty finding jobs to rejection by their families.

Sex between men meanwhile is punishable by up to two years in jail in the island state, although prosecutions are rare.

Taiwan’s top court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in May, paving the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalize gay unions, but progress of LGBT rights elsewhere in the region has been slow.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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