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Transsexual wins right to marry in landmark Hong Kong case

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
updated 3:30 AM EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
Michael Vidler, the lawyer of a transsexual woman who won a landmark case, talks to the press in Hong Kong on May 13.
Michael Vidler, the lawyer of a transsexual woman who won a landmark case, talks to the press in Hong Kong on May 13.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A transsexual woman has won on appeal the right to marry her boyfriend in a landmark case
  • She was refused the right to marry as she did not quality as a "woman" under Hong Kong law
  • The 37-year-old, known as 'W,' had a sex change operation more than five years ago
  • Judges noted the decision does not address the question of same-sex marriage

(CNN) -- A transsexual woman has won on appeal the right to marry her boyfriend, a decision poised to rewrite Hong Kong's marriage law.

The appellant -- known only by the initial "W" -- is a post-operative male-to-female transsexual who was refused the right to marry because she did not quality as a "woman" under Hong Kong law.

The Court of Final Appeal ruled 4-1 Monday that the restriction was unconstitutional. The 37-year-old woman -- who had a government-subsidized sex change operation -- had twice lost her case at lower courts.

"I may have born a man but after transgender surgery at a government hospital more than five years ago, I've lived my life as a woman and been treated as a woman in all respects except as regards my right to marry," W said in a statement to local reporters through her attorney, Michael Vidler, according to the South China Morning Press.

"This decision rights that wrong, and I'm very happy the Court of [Final] Appeal now recognizes my desire to marry my boyfriend one day, and that desire is no different to that of any other woman who seeks the same here in Hong Kong."

The court decision will not come into effect for 12 months to give the Hong Kong legislature the opportunity to address the portion of the law deemed unconstitutional. "We should make it clear that nothing in this judgment is intended to address the question of same sex marriage," Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and Judge Robert Ribeiro wrote in their majority decision.

The majority found the idea that a "woman" is a biological criteria fixed at birth "is particularly hard to justify in the light of significant medical advances in the treatment of transsexualism and important changes in the understanding of and social attitudes towards transsexual persons which have occurred over the last 40 odd years."

The only dissenting judge -- Patrick Chan Siu-Oi -- argued "it is difficult and unrealistic to consider marriage to be entirely unconnected with procreation.

"There is no evidence that social attitudes in Hong Kong on the institution of marriage have changed to the extent that this concept of marriage has been abandoned or generally and substantially weakened," Judge Chan wrote.

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