A Finnish woman has today taken her fight to get her marriage recognised following her gender reassignment to the European Court of Human Rights.

Heli Hämäläinen, a Finnish citizen who was born as a man and underwent gender reassignment surgery during her marriage, has today attended a public hearing at the court’s Grand Chamber. Hämäläinen, who has a child with her wife of seventeen years, had applied for legal recognition of her female gender identity. However, Finnish authorities refused her request under legislation that makes legal recognition of gender reassignment for those in existing marriages conditional on the termination of their marriage.

Hämäläinen challenged this provision before domestic courts and then before the European Court, which initially rejected her complaint, saying that termination of marriage in these circumstances was necessary in order to preserve marriage as an institution reserved for opposite couples. However, The Grand Chamber of the Court accepted to rehear the case and consider anew the arguments presented by Hämäläinen, backed by the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (Interights).

Heli 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 pigeonholed in such a way.’

Constantin Cojocariu, lawyer at Interights, commented: ‘The H v Finland case is illustrative of the extraordinary strictures states impose on transgender people seeking legal gender recognition, including forced medical treatment and forced divorce.’

‘A positive ruling in this case would send the Council of Europe Contracting States a strong signal that they should simplify their legal gender recognition procedures, and de-link them from unreasonable requirements.’

Hämäläinen argues in court 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 of discrimination guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

A working group has recently been set up by the Finnish Government to review the provisions of the Transgender Act, in particular the requirements of forced divorce and infertility.