A bill that would make it easier for trans people to change to change their gender on birth certificates had been deferred due to poor public consultation and legal concerns.
Internal Affairs minister Tracey Martin today announced she had deferred the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.
The bill had previously faced strong opposition by conservative, religious and feminist groups who had challenged whether enough thought had gone into the consequences of the move and what it would mean for women's prisons and refuges.
In a statement, Martin said significant changes had been made to the bill by the select committee around gender self-identification and stakeholders had not been given adequate opportunity to make submissions on this.
These significant changes which meant people would no longer have to apply to the Family Court and provide medical evidence showing they changed their physical attributes had "occurred without adequate public consultation" and had "created a fundamental legal issue", she said.
Instead people wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate could avoid lengthy waits of more than a year and fees of up to $258 by doing it through an administrative process based on self-identification.
In other countries such as England and Wales the consultation period on this issue was almost four months.
But Martin said because the changes were made after submissions on the bill closed, it meant many stakeholders may have missed the chance to give their feedback on it.
"There are also wider legal implications of changing to a self-identification system that need further consideration," she said.
The Crown Law Office had provided advice which recommending further clarification be made about when a person's sex or gender might need to be determined independently of the sex shown on their birth certificate. These circumstances included enrolment in single sex schools, accessing services at women's refuges and the criminal justice system.
While the bill was being reworked, Martin has asked officials to look at ways to make the current process around changing a person's sex on birth certificates cheaper and easier as a temporary fix.
Options to make the process easier could include removing the fees associated with applications to update sex on birth certificates and related name changes; whether successful applications could result in gender records on other documents such as passports being automatically updated; and if the current requirements could be made clearer as to what is required when providing medical evidence.
The move has been applauded by conservative lobby group Family First NZ which said the proposed bill meant birth certificates would become an object of unscientific gender ideology.
"It is disturbing that some politicians want to ignore biological reality and, in the process, bring about confusion and ambiguity. A birth certificate is a historical record based on fact - not a political tool to further an ideology," national director Bob McCoskrie said.
Gender Minorities national co-ordinator Ahi Wi-hongi said the decision was very disappointing and believed the influence was coming from UK-based anti trans lobby groups.
She said already people could change their sex on other documents such as passports and drivers licences and it didn't make sense for people to have their documents mismatched.
Ahi Wi-hongi urged the Government to listen to the expert organisations such at the Human Rights Commission and the National Council of Women who had given their opinions in support of the bill.
The group was also doubtful the interim changes proposed by the minister would help the transgender community because the major hurdle was proving medical evidence to change the gender on a birth certificate - not the fees or changing the gender it on other documents, Wi-Hongi said.
Labour MP Louisa Wall said while she could understand some of the frustration from some of the community such as the transgender groups who had been fighting for the changes since 2007, it was also important that everyone had a chance to submit on the proposal and that a greater level of due diligence was carried out.
"I know there are voices in the community that have said they haven't been heard in the considerations so from my perspective it's a positive."
The Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill was introduced in 2017 by then Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne to update several aspects of the law. In February last year the Government told the select committee to consider changing the process for changing the gender on a birth certificate.