Jensen / Finding ‘justice’ in a birth certificate

Share Canberra's trusted news: has reported the introduction of the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 in the ACT Assembly.

Nick Jensen

The essence of the Bill is straightforward, making interstate parentage orders easier as well as name changes. The contentious part is the push to remove the need for “mother” and “father” on birth certificates and, instead, put generic “gender diverse” terms.

The main issue I have is that I don’t think the Bill goes far enough. The Bill’s stated aim is “to enhance the ability of Canberra residents to have their identity represented in a way that is most meaningful for them”.

Why aren’t we allowed, therefore, to adapt birth certificates in other ways that better “reflect our identity” – for example our age?

Two months ago in Canada, a 52-year-old man left his family to fulfil his true identity as a six-year-old girl. He now lives with his adoptive parents spending the days playing and colouring. Surely it is discriminatory not to allow him to have documents that recognise his chosen identity.

And last month, in Norway, a 20-year-old woman realised she was actually a cat and has been living that way ever since. She says she is “trapped” in the wrong body and enjoys chasing mice. Who are we to tell her she is not and, indeed, force her birth certificate to reflect her non-feline status?

In all seriousness, the biggest problem with this Bill is the title: The “Justice Legislation Amendment”. No one should ever disagree with something that encourages “justice”. However, the question we need to ask is what does this mean?

What justice appears to mean in this context is primarily “equality” and the ability to self-identify. But I believe that this concept of justice is wholly inadequate because any concept of justice that undermines the corresponding virtue of truth cannot be coherent.

For example, whatever identity one wants to give oneself, a child will always have a biological “mother” and biological “father”. Already birth certificates in the ACT don’t have to register genetic identity, or even who the birth mother is. The simple truth of one’s heritage is lost with such laws, and biology itself registers a protest.

It is not my intention to mock, insult or offend Canberrans who have chosen to live with varying “identities”. What I am saying is that documents such as birth certificates should reflect truth, such as who a child’s actual mother and father are. Added to this is that children have a right to this information, whether their father was a sperm donor or their birth mother was a surrogate. It is simply unjust to hide this information from them because of their parents’ chosen “identities”.

This Bill is not about justice. Justice is primarily about honouring the intended created purpose of something, as well as keeping those things in right relationship with each other. Every child deserves to know who their mother and father is, and this is fundamental to justice.

Nick Jensen is the director of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, which helps develop leaders in public policy (


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