Constraining personal identity is not the government’s job
Tom Kott is CEO of the Prince Arthur Herald, having previously served as Editor-in-Chief from 2012-2014. He studied political science and history at McGill, and now works in public relations with HATLEY Strategy in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @TomKott.
Last week, Québec Solidaire Member of the National Assembly Manon Massé presented a private member’s bill that would allow minors as young as 14 to alter the sex marked on their birth certificates. This reform would bring Quebec laws in line with those in Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, where such changes are already allowed. Transgender youth in Quebec already have the right to legally change their names to reflect the sex with which they identify.
The new bill seeks to remove the burden that transgender teens feel when forced to choose between their legal identity and how they truly feel. In an op-ed that appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Kimberly Manning gave the example of a young student losing 20 minutes on a high school entrance exam to decide whether to check the M box or F box. This type of hardship is one that most people will never be able to comprehend, myself included.
The world is changing, and the notion of identity is much more fluid that it used to be – which is arguably a good thing. The days where people are discriminated against based on their identity is waning away. But this evolution puts into question the government’s role in our lives. If we agree as a society that people have a right to freely determine their own identity, which is so far the trend, then what authority does the government have to stop it? And in that case, why should the law affect some people differently than others?
It seems archaic then that couples in Quebec — whether they’re straight, gay, trans, or whatever — can’t legally change their surnames when they marry. The fact that 14-year-olds can unilaterally edit their identity in this way, while two consenting adults united through the bond of marriage are unequivocally barred from sharing the same last name, is mind boggling.
This prohibition was put in place in 1981 based on the notion that destroying the nuptial tradition would bring more equality between men and women. Quebec, France, and Greece share this statistinterpretation of equality, though almost every other Western jurisdiction gives couples the choice as to whether to change their names or not – which usually includes allowing a man to take a woman’s surname.
Family names are a tradition that span thousands of years and are a key indicator of identity – it is the most basic social marker of who a person is. Children growing up in Quebec today have hyphenations that more closely resemble the name of a law firm than that of a united family. For those who skip the hyphenation, at least one parent is alienated from his or her children in this respect.
If the private member’s bill passes, a male born as a female will be able to change a document normally frozen in time, to say that he was always female, biology aside. If that’s the choice we make as a society, then all the better. But if something as fundamental as the sex of a child at birth can be subject to revision, the other key markers of identity should also be put on the table.
Asking for married couples to be able share one last name, a name that will also be shared by their children, shouldn’t be a far-fetched idea under these circumstances. In fact, it’s a traditional right the government never had the right to take away in the first place.
Tom Kott is the CEO of the Prince Arthur Herald
The Prince Arthur Herald
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