The British government decided on Monday to block a Scottish gender reassignment law, risking a stalemate between London and the devolved government in Edinburgh.
The law — passed by a wide margin in December with support from all five political parties in Holyrood’s parliament – making it easier for people to legally change their gender, but London is now opposing it over concerns over its possible impact on equality laws across the UK United.
This is the first time London has used its legal powers to block a law in Scotland.
Under the Scotland Act 1998, a devolved government was created in Scotland, giving the country more say in how it is run. But many areas of law and politics remain under the control of London, which is the supreme authority.
Monday’s move is likely to spark another political and legal battle between London and Edinburgh, just two months later the Scottish Parliament was barred by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from holding a second referendum on independence.
Secretary of State Alister Jack, the UK government’s representative in Scotland, said on Monday evening that the gender bill would “impact” how equality legislation worked in Britain.
“My ruling today is about the impact of the legislation on the functioning of equality protections,” she said. “I didn’t make this decision lightly.”
Writing on Twitter, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denounced a “frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions”.
He said the Scottish government would “defend” the law, criticizing “Westminster’s veto”.
The law, proposed by the Scottish Parliament in December, aimed to streamline the legal process for gender reassignment.
Meet the Scots who changed their minds about independence
UK says it could block Scotland’s gender recognition bill, Spain moves to pass its own legislation
Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill: MPs pass bill making it easier to change gender
It removed the need for transgender people to have a medical diagnosis for gender dysphoria when applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
The period in which an applicant has to live in their new gender has also been reduced from two years to three months, lowering the age at which people can apply for a GRC from 18 to 16, which aligns it with other rights for young people in Scotland, including grades.
Stonewall, a UK-based charity for LGBT+ rights, criticized London’s decision, saying it was “saddened”.
“There are no actions by a government that can stand on the international stage as a defender of LGBTQ+ rights,” reads a statement.
The UK government has warned it could block the law soon after it is passed.
Adopted after heated debates in local parliament, opponents say it will endanger women by restricting access to spaces reserved for them.
The Scottish government insists that the bill does not affect UK law which authorizes the exclusion of transgender people from certain restricted spaces, such as changing rooms.