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Germany Offers Third Gender Option On Birth Certificates

Germany will allow parents to choose a third indeterminate option for newborn babies, under a new law that takes effect Friday.
Deshakalyan Chowdhury
AFP/Getty Images
Germany will allow parents to choose a third indeterminate option for newborn babies, under a new law that takes effect Friday.

A German law takes effect today that establishes a third gender option for parents filling out birth certificates for newborn babies. They can choose "indeterminate" if the child shows both male and female characteristics.

The parents will make that choice by leaving the boxes for male and female genders blank. The new law is meant to avoid the need to label an intersex baby as male or female before the child is old enough to decide.

The child could also opt to remain classified as intersex. German passports "will soon be allowed to have an 'X' in the gender field, according to a spokesman for the interior ministry," Agence France-Presse says.

As Deutsche Welle reports:

"The law follows a 2012 report by the German Ethics Council, which advises the government and parliament on complex ethical issues.

" 'Many people who were subjected to a 'normalizing' operation in their childhood have later felt it to have been a mutilation and would never have agreed to it as adults,' the report said.

"It described the necessity of being entered in the registry as 'female' or 'male' as being an unwarranted intrusion upon personal rights and the right to equal treatment."

According to a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, the new law "is not adequate to fully resolve the complex problems of intersex people."

"As many as one in 2,000 people have characteristics of both sexes," the BBC reports.

Parents of those children are sometimes forced to make a quick decision on the infant's gender, in part to satisfy federal registration laws.

"Sometimes surgery is done on the baby to turn its physical characteristics as far as possible in one direction or the other," the BBC says.

While Germany is the first European nation to offer a third-sex option, several other countries have recently adopted similar approaches.

Australia began to allow citizens to identify themselves as intersex on passports and other documents this year. And in 2009, citizens of both India and Pakistan also gained new rights to identify their gender beyond male and female.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.