Exploring the Sources of Authority Over the Word Meaning in Transgender Jurisprudence

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This paper looks at transgender identities and the law in the context of marriage in common law jurisdictions. It particularly focuses on the nature and sources of authority over word meaning as well as the role of language and definition in classifying transgender individuals into a legal category. When it comes to the legal question of who may marry whom, and what the terms “man” and “woman” actually refer to, there is no statutory definition of the terms “man”, “woman”, “male” and “female”. This has put the onus on judges, especially those who needed to decide whether a transgender person can marry in his/her affirmed sex, to interpret these terms. Two lines of cases in transgender jurisprudence are examined so as to have a close study of how the courts construed these terms and classified transgender people into a category. The first concerns United Kingdom cases, namely Corbett v Corbett (1971), Bellinger v Bellinger (2003) and the Hong Kong case W v Registrar of Marriages (2010), (2011) & (2013). The second consists of Australian cases such as Secretary, Department of Social Security v State Rail Authority (1993) and Re Kevin (2002). This paper discusses these issues by analyzing and comparing different cases in transgender jurisprudence as well as examining how these issues play out in contemporary Hong Kong.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-44
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Dictionary
  • Gender category
  • Legal classification
  • Legal definition
  • Transgender


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