At the party conference on Thursday in Umeå in the north of Sweden, the party rejected an earlier suggestion from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to remove the sterilization requirement.
“A sex-change means that you willingly subject yourself to treatment in order to change your gender, and if you do that it is also reasonable that you give up some gender-specific properties of your old sex,” Maria Larsson, minister for children and the elderly, said in a speech at the party conference on Thursday evening.
Larsson also said that Sweden is by no means unique in implementing this rule and added that it is also a question of children having the right to “define who is their mother and who is their father”.
According to legislation passed in 1972, to undergo a sex change operation a person must be over 18-years-old, a Swedish citizen, be sterilized and unmarried.
This has long been defended by the Christian Democrats but lately critical voices have risen from within the rank and file that the position is old-fashioned, and on Thursday Larsson met criticism from party members.
“This is state-imposed surgery that is mandatory in a certain situation, a mutilating surgery, and you should have very strong reasons to force that on people,” said party member Olle Sandahl in a speech.
Another party member, Caroline Szyber, said that the Christian Democrats should safeguard the sanctity of all individuals and protect their rights.
“Many, myself included, will associate forced sterilisations with the policies of the post-war era. As long as it is state-sanctioned it is coercion,” said Szyber in her speech.
Between 1934 and 1976, when there was a change in legislation, it is estimated that 63,000 mentally disabled people, epileptics and people with alleged social problems, were coerced to undergo sterilization in Sweden against their will, or pressured into agreeing to the operation in order to be allowed to marry or be released from mental institutions.
In 1999, Sweden agreed to compensate some of the victims of forced sterilization, offering each individual up to 175,000 kronor ($28,000).
Larsson was not amused by the comparison to the state imposed sterilizations in Sweden’s past.
“I feel slightly concerned when people compare this rule to the forced sterilizations from history – there is no comparison, let me be clear on that. This is about how someone willingly has chosen to change their sex,” Larsson said.
According to news agency TT, the government is divided on the issue. And at a party leader debate held during last year’s Pride festival, prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he was keen to modernize the law.
“It’s a dark chapter in Swedish history,” he told news agency TT at the time.
But Larsson told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Thursday that, as it is only this point they don’t see eye-to-eye on, she is confident that they will be able to reach an agreement.
The Christian Democrats did however vote in favour of scrapping the demand that a married person who chooses to have a sex change must get a divorce, and the requirement that you have to be a Swedish citizen to have the procedure done.