The Korea Herald


Court rules surgery not mandatory for legal gender change

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : May 9, 2024 - 14:51

    • Link copied

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A recent court ruling has declared it unlawful for the first time to require gender-affirmation surgery as a prerequisite for legally changing one's gender.

Judges at the Yeongdong branch of the Cheongju District Court recently granted permission to five people who have not undergone gender reassignment surgeries to change their legal gender from male to female on their family registers. The decision was confirmed by the court on Thursday.

The individuals, originally registered as male at birth, have adopted a female gender identity since childhood, according to local news reports. The reports indicate that they have all pursued hormone therapy for several years to affirm their gender expression.

In elucidating the reasoning behind their decision, the judges highlighted that the Supreme Court revised the administrative guidelines on gender registration for transgender individuals in 2020.

The judges underscored that the requirement of undergoing gender-affirmation surgery has shifted from being a mandatory "criteria for approval" for legal gender change to being a "reference point."

The judges noted that requiring people to receive surgery as a prerequisite to legally change genders could be a violation of the Constitution, which ensures human dignity and the right to pursue happiness.

The judges further explained that the requirements are “in conflict with the fundamental right of people to have protected their physical integrity and personal autonomy in connection with their human dignity.”

However, the judges simultaneously recognized that "some courts, at their discretion, have requested documents pertaining to gender-affirming surgery and have utilized the absence of such documentation as justification for denying the legal gender change."

Article 6, Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the “Guidelines for the Handling of Petition for Legal Sex Change Permit of Transgender People,” a rule set by the Supreme Court, stipulates that whether the person in question has undergone gender confirmation surgery or is sterile may be taken under consideration when deciding whether to accept or deny a request to change one's gender on official records.

“The Supreme Court should quickly eliminate the relevant guidelines’ articles so that lower courts can be consistent in their authorization standards,” said Song Ji-eun, a lawyer representing the five gender change applicants.

Overseas, a growing number of countries do not require gender reassignment surgery as a prerequisite for legal gender change. Japan’s highest court ruled in October 2023 that requiring gender reassignment surgery to obtain a legal gender transition was unconstitutional. The Czech Constitutional Court ruled the same on Tuesday.

Other countries such as Denmark, Belgium, and Argentina do not require surgery for legal gender changes.