BDMRR Action 2021: We Need You

BDMRR stands for Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration. This is an Act in New Zealand law which sets out the legal aspects and requirements about the registration of Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships. This includes the legal requirements for birth certificates, including changing the name or sex marker on a person’s birth certificate, due to marriage, civil union, or being transgender, for example.

There are a number of problems with the BDMRR law as it currently stands, which make it very hard for trans people to update the sex marker on their birth certificate – over 80% of trans people in Aotearoa NZ have the wrong sex marker on their birth certificate. 

In 2018 a Bill to change this law was developed, and has now been through a rigorous process including two Select Committee reports, robust examination of advice from officials, and public submissions. In 2021, the new Minister has sought further advice and has committed to pass it into law by late 2021 or early 2022. She is soon to release an updated Bill.

There is a BDMRR 101 Primer available here.

Take Action Now

In April 2021 Minister Tinetti said she is yet to decide whether the Bill will go back to the Select Committee for further submissions or straight to Parliament, where MPs will debate it’s contents.

Our professional opinion is that the Bill will probably go back to the Select Committee for further submissions. We should know this by June or July, and would probably have 4-6 weeks to make submissions. 

The Government has committed to pass this law and has enough votes to do so. Our concern is whether the 2021 version of the Bill will be stronger than it was before.

The BDMRR 101 Primer is essentially an example of a submission, though you could pick any of the points from the primer to talk about, or there may be other issues you would like to raise. You can also see previous submissions on this Bill below – both for and against the Bill.

You can see more information on how a Bill becomes an Act below, along with the contact details of MPs who you may wish to contact. 

Right now is the best time to learn about the issues, draft a submission, and be ready to make changes to it depending on what is in the 2021 Bill when it’s released.

It’s also a good time to put leaflets in your neighbors’ letter boxes, hand them out in the street, talk to people about why you support the BDMRR changes and self-determination for trans people, write letters to newspaper editors.

What you can do when the 2021 Bill is released

Once the Bill is released, we need transgender people and supporters to make submissions supporting legal gender recognition provisions that are based on self-determination. You can read our BDMRR 101 primer above – it has a lot of useful information to help you understand the issues, and be prepared to make a submission.

You can also see the rainbow community statement below, which was written just before the last version of the Bill was released in August 2018. It set out the types of legal changes that were needed and why. This statement was written by takatāpui, trans and non-binary people and organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand, and endorsed by a number of organisations and individuals, including former Human Rights Commissioners. It was written and published in a short timeframe, so it was not circulated broadly for people to sign on. 

Recommendations once the 2021 Bill is released

1. Support the need to change the current law

Many rightwing conservatives, fundamentalist faith based groups, and anti-trans campaign groups want to keep the current BDMRR Act that requires trans people to have medical interventions and go to the Family Court before we can amend our birth certificate. The current law also does not include a non-binary option for birth certificates.  These campaigns against the Bill are based on mis-information and harmful stereotypes of trans people, especially trans women.

It is critical that transgender people and supporters make submissions supporting the BDMRR Bill – so that trans people can change their birth certificates to match other ID documents. A birth certificate is the only ID document that anyone born in Aotearoa can access which cannot ever be taken away from them. The more support for the Bill, the more likely that MPs will resist pressure to make the Bill weaker because of the campaign against it.

2. Suggest ways to improve the Bill

When the BDMRR Bill was released in August 2018, we saw that it needed significant improvements. The new Minister has said she is making changes to the 2018 version. When the 2021 version is released, GMA will provide its analysis about what is still missing – let us know your thoughts as well.

This initial response to the 2018 Bill (below) was sent to the previous Minister from a group of rainbow community organisations, explaining some of the changes needed. It’s been almost three years since that letter was written and our communities do not want to keep waiting for the next review of the law for any of these changes. 

Trans individuals, and groups such as Rainbow Path, have been lobbying for options for trans asylum seekers and Convention refugees who aren’t permanent residents to have official documentation with their correct name and sex marker. 

We are also concerned that the 2018 Bill only applies to people with a NZ birth certificate. Even the existing BDMRR Act allows permanent residents and citizens born overseas to use the current Family Court process to get a Declaration as to Sex with their correct name and sex / gender marker. The 2021 Bill should include an option for trans migrants that is a simple, administrative process, similar to that being introduced for trans people born in Aotearoa or being considered for asylum seekers and Convention refugees who are not permanent residents.  

History of the Bill

2017 – 2018: The Bill went to the Select Committee in 2017, containing no changes to the current Family Court process. Yet, the Select Committee had just released a separate report saying the process for changing sex details on a birth certificate needed to change to be based on self-identification, in response to a petition started by Allyson Hamblett (below). The Government’s response to that Select Committee report also reinforced that the focus of the Select Committee’s review of the current BDMRR Act now included issues raised in the petition. 

Many people then made submissions to the Select Committee. Community submissions explained why changing the Family Court process was necessary, and how it should be done.  After hearing all the submissions, in August 2018, the Select Committee produced a new version of the Bill, introducing a simpler process for changing the sex marker on birth certificates without going to the Family Court. It was a huge improvement, though it still fell short of meeting trans and intersex people’s needs. A number of  community groups wrote a joint letter to the then Minister Tracey Martin, offering suggestions to improve some of the terms in the Bill, making it the same process as changing the sex marker in passports, and noted some gaps that needed to be addressed; such as legal gender recognition for asylum seekers and refugees. You can read that letter in section 2, above. 

2019 – 2020: The Minister at the time then “deferred” the Bill and instead formed a Working Group to recommend how the Family Court process could be fixed without changing the law. 

2021: The Working Group’s report was released on 29 April 2021, along with the Government’s response, below. The Working Group identified a vast array of problems with the current process and ways some of these could be improved – and made it clear that a law change was also needed. In her media release shortly after, Minister Jan Tinetti agreed, saying she intends to progress this Bill, with the hope of passing it in 2021 – “The Bill will enable people to self-identify their sex on their birth certificate without going to the Family Court. They will instead be able to apply online as they currently do for other identity documents, like driver’s licenses and passports.

Department of Internal Affairs overview, timelines, and reports.

New Zealand Parliament history of the Bill, related reports, and other papers including public submissions.