Bulgaria high court ruling bans any legal change of a person’s gender

The civil college of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) has ruled that the country’s current legislation did not allow courts to admit proceedings for the legal change of a person’s gender in government-issued documents for people identifying as transgender.

SCC’s civil college was asked by the high court’s chairperson to issue an interpretation ruling in 2020 due to the history of contradictory decisions on this issue, the ruling said.

The ruling cited a Constitutional Court decision, issued in 2021 following a request for clarification made by the SCC, which re-affirmed that the concept of gender in the country’s constitution referred solely to the biologic aspect.

Earlier, the Constitutional Court used the same argument in a decision, issued in 2018, to declare the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on domestic violence as against Bulgaria’s constitution.

The SCC said that Constitutional Court’s decision was legally binding and argued that this interpretation did not breach the provisions of EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its ruling, the SCC said that there were no grounds for a court to accept legal proceedings to change the “gender, name and ID number in the civil status acts of a person who claims to be transgender.” Civil status acts in Bulgarian legislation are birth, marriage and death certificates.

The court’s ruling references in passing that gender identity may differ from the sex assigned at birth, but said that it was outside the court’s jurisdiction to decide the “conditions and consequences” of such cases. Only lawmakers could make such a decision, the ruling said.

In a dissenting opinion, 21 of the 49 judges in the general assembly of the SCC civil college argued that instead of imposing a “general, automatic and equal for all, regardless of circumstances, ban on the legal change of gender”, the SCC should allow such changes by “taking into consideration the specifics of each separate case and balancing public and individual interest.”

The dissenting opinion said that the ruling did not address issues that could lead to the discrimination of transgender persons.

In a statement, human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that the high court’s ruling contradicted the international standards with regards to human rights.

“With its ruling, the SCC will trigger a wave of new judgements against the country in the European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Committee,” the group said.

The SCC ruling in this case (2/2020) can be read in full here (in Bulgarian).

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)

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