Overtaken by Events


Sam Leith has written in the Spectator, asking “Should a trans woman inherit a peerage over their [sic] older sister?” This question is raised by trans woman Matilda Simon inheriting a title and contesting a seat in the House of Lords.

It’s a confused mess of an article — claiming that hereditary peerage is an accident of birth while also saying one is allowed to identify however they please. Except they’re not, because trans men are excluded from such inheritance — that is the point of the GRA clause that insists a GRC doesn’t affect inheritance of titles. It’s specifically so that trans men cannot claim an inheritance they otherwise would be unable to. Naturally transphobes are frothing at the mouth over the GRA not doing anything, because there is no consistency in their worldview.

There is no contradiction in saying that a peerage is an accident of birth and so is sex assigned at birth, however much Leith might want to claim otherwise. The “Johnsonian cakeism” Leith is accusing others of is however exemplified by his position that trans women should not inherit titles… and neither should trans men. You can’t have it both ways. Such is typical of transphobic brain-rot.

But the question laid out by the article title remains valid, and to be fair, no, a trans woman should not inherit a peerage over an elder sister. Which is why it’s deeply curious that Leith makes precisely zero mention of Tory MP Harriet Baldwin’s Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill.

Baldwin notes that one eighth of the seats in the House of Lords are reserved for men (or trans women, though she doesn’t mention that) only. She suggests that hereditary peerages should simply go to the eldest child. Personally, I don’t think her Bill goes far enough, because she says it wouldn’t apply where there is already a son in the line of succession, and would effectively only apply to heirs who haven’t been born yet, but if we’re going with what I personally think then the House of Lords should be abolished, and this question would become irrelevant.

But that’s rather the theme here – questions becoming irrelevant. None of Leith’s arguments would be relevant if Baldwin’s Bill passes. Whether or not it actually will is uncertain. This isn’t even the first Bill of that title that this Government has faced, with MP Philip Davies introducing a similar Bill with the same title in 2019. When Davies asked why the Government objected to the Bill, he was told that since peerages are not positions covered by the Equality Act, gender equality in the House of Lords was an internal matter for the Lords. But there seems to be a large appetite for such reform within the Lords, which raises the question: why hasn’t it happened?

Nonetheless, transphobes that I have seen, including self-proclaimed feminists, would rather yell about trans people in their blinkered, obsessive way than draw attention to a Bill that could actually help.

This brings to mind a similar case of transphobic obsession recently. Last month, no-fault divorce was introduced into the law of England and Wales. No-fault divorce was provided for in Scotland in 2006 (it had kind of previously existed but the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 made it easier to access — though in fact, it is now even easier in England than it is in Scotland).

The upshot of this discrepancy is that the so-called “spousal veto” — a mechanism by which a spouse could block a person from getting a Gender Recognition Certificate — in the GRA had basically no effect in Scotland. Now that no-fault divorce is legal in England, the spousal veto has effectively (but not officially) become irrelevant there, too, but transphobes still yell about how important it is.

So transphobes have form for ignoring changes (or potential changes) to the law that would render their “reasonable concerns” irrelevant — if one truly cared about gender equality in the House of Lords, one would be supporting Baldwin’s Bill, instead of ignoring it and yelling about trans people some more. This is because their “reasonable concerns” are in fact nothing of the sort, but ad hoc rationalisations for their bigotry.