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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Transgender people in Malta will no longer need to have surgery, sterilization and a diagnosis of mental illness to legally change gender under a law passed on Wednesday, which rights groups hailed as a new benchmark for LGBTI rights in Europe.
The majority of countries in Europe require transgender people to undergo a series of medical procedures, be diagnosed with a mental disorder and get divorced if married in order to have their desired gender legally recognized by the government.
The Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act makes Malta only the second European nation, after Denmark, to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without any medical or state intervention.
The law also prohibits medically unnecessary surgery on the genitals of intersex infants, making Malta the first country in the world to do so, said ILGA-Europe, a network of European lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups.
People who are transgender are described as those who feel they have been born into the wrong gender body, while intersex refers to people who have ambiguous genitalia that are not considered typically male or female.
"It (the bill) provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards," Paulo Côrte-Real, co-chair of ILGA-Europe, said in a statement as the law was passed.
Denmark last year became the first European country to allow transgender people to change legal gender without medical intervention, but its law set a minimum age of 18 and requires people to wait six months before reconfirming their wish to be legally recognized as the opposite gender.
Malta's law does not require a waiting period or specify a minimum age, but instead allows parents or legal guardians of a person under the age of 18 to apply in court on their behalf to change legal gender.
The law also enables parents or guardians of intersex children to postpone entering their child's gender on their birth certificate, meaning that rushed, serious and often-irreversible surgery can be avoided, according to ILGA-Europe.
Arja Voipio, co-chair of rights group Transgender Europe, said demanding sterility, divorce, and a mental health diagnosis was "an unacceptable thing of the past".
"Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action," Voipio said.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce