Federal judges in two states intervened Wednesday to temporarily block laws that would ban gender transition assistance for children, the latest cases in which legislation against transgender people has been blocked by the judiciary.
The separate rulings in Kentucky and Tennessee came just days before key provisions of the laws went into effect, as a wave of laws aimed at curbing LGBTQ rights cleared Republican-controlled legislatures across the country this year. Many of these laws remain embroiled in legal battles or have been declared unconstitutional by federal judges.
In the first decision handed down Wednesday, Judge David J. Hale of the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky temporarily blocked part of a Kentucky law that would ban the prescribing and administration of puberty blockers and hormone therapy, allowing options of health care for transgender youth to remain available in the state as litigation continued.
Most of the bill went into effect immediately when it became law this year, but some provisions are expected to go into effect Thursday.
Hours later, Tennessee Central District Judge Eli J. Richardson made a similar decision to temporarily preserve access to that treatment in the state, days before the Tennessee law took effect Saturday. In a 69-page ruling, Judge Richardson pointed out that, when challenged, similar bans on puberty blockers and hormone therapy had been stalled either temporarily or permanently.
« The court understands that today’s decision will likely stoke the already controversial fire concerning the rights of transgender individuals in American society on the one hand, and the counterbalancing power of states to control certain activities within their borders and to use that power to protect minors, » wrote Judge Richardson, who was nominated in his place by former President Donald J. Trump. « The court, however, is not alone in its decision. »
Transgender youth and their advocates have turned to the courts as a last resort to stop laws they warn will be devastating to young people’s health and well-being. Their biggest victory came earlier this month when an Arkansas federal judge overturned the nation’s first law banning transition assistance, ruling it discriminatory and unconstitutional.
A spokeswoman for Jonathan Skrmetti, the Tennessee attorney general, said the office would appeal the court’s decision. In a declarationDaniel Cameron, the Kentucky attorney general and Republican candidate for governor, vowed to continue defending his state’s law and scoffed at what he called a « poor decision » that « tramples the right » of the Kentucky legislature to dictate public order.
While Justice Richardson specifically clarified that it was possible the state could prevail in ongoing litigation over a permanent ban, both justices said that the coalitions that challenged the laws had more successfully voiced their concerns about the constitutionality and discrimination.
« If Tennessee wishes to regulate access to certain medical procedures, it must do so in a way that does not violate rights conferred by the United States Constitution, » Judge Richardson wrote.
Judge Hale, appointed to his position by former President Barack Obama, said that in an effort to counter charges of unconstitutionality, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has offered « a number of perfunctory counterarguments, none of which are persuasive » and to a at one point he resorted to « unnecessarily provocative language ».
The two men also signaled that both states had yet to successfully convince them that treating transgender youth with puberty blockers and hormone treatments was risky or unproven, noting that most major health organizations said transition care was safe for teenagers. Republicans have argued that it’s too risky for anyone under the age of 18.
Conservatives across the country have prioritized legislation aimed at gender transition care, with Republicans in Tennessee symbolically designating their to measure as the first bill of the House and Senate this session. The move bans health care providers from offering new transitional care to children, including puberty blockers and hormone treatments, after July 1, and would end existing care for current patients by March 2024.
In Kentucky, lawmakers chose to bundle several restrictions into a single measure that LGBTQ rights groups have described as one of the most extreme anti-transgender laws in the country. The law, known as SB 150, prohibits Kentucky doctors from providing gender transition surgery or administering puberty blockers or hormone therapy to anyone under the age of 18.
Portions of the Kentucky law that remain in effect include a ban on school districts requiring or recommending that any student be referred to with a pronoun that « does not conform to a student’s biological sex » and a ban on transgender students from using restrooms that align with their gender identities.
Under the law, lessons on sexuality cannot be taught in schools before sixth grade, and lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation, among other things, are prohibited in any classroom.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill in March. It was vetoed by Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat seeking re-election, who She said which allowed « too much government interference in personal health care matters ». But the legislator overrode his veto.
In both states, a ban on transition surgery for minors will go into effect. Judge Richardson ruled that the plaintiffs in Tennessee had not sought to protect access to surgeries in their lawsuit. In Kentucky, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky has not contested this aspect of the law.