The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that countries do not have to respect the wishes of transgender people who wish to remain married when changing their legal gender.

Heli Hämäläinen, a Finnish citizen who was assigned male at birth in 1963 and underwent gender reassignment surgery during her marriage to a woman, went to the Court after she was told she would have to downgrade her marriage to a partnership if she wanted her new gender to be to recognised, because same sex marriage is not legal in the country. But the court refused to back her, saying there were no significant differences between marriage and legal partnerships.

As she delivered her argument to the European Court back in November, Hämäläinen said: ‘In the eyes of Finnish family law, my marriage is not equal to others. Finnish legislation implies that we have obligations to the common good – so strong that we should dissolve our marriage in order to conform to cisgender values. We do not want to be pigeon holed such a way.’

In her pleadings before the Court, Hämäläinen argued that by forcing her to choose between the legal recognition of her gender identity and marriage, the state was in breach of her right to private and family life, her right to marry and found a family and of the prohibition against discrimination guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said: ‘The Finnish authorities argued and the European Court agreed that Ms Hämäläinen’s family did not suffer disproportionately by their marriage being downgraded to a registered partnership as a registered partnership is almost identical to a marriage in terms of rights and protections. Nevertheless, the Court missed an important opportunity to condemn humiliating and discriminatory practices across Europe requiring trans people to end their existing marriage to obtain legal gender recognition.

‘The requirement to end an existing marriage in order to obtain legal gender recognition is one of the legal obstacles trans people still face in 32 out of 49 European countries.’