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Utah Legislature approves ban on gender-affirming care for minors

An equality-adapted version of the proposed new Utah state flag is waved during a rally for transgender rights on the front steps of the Utah State Capitol, Jan. 24, 2023.
Saige Miller
An equality-adapted version of the proposed new Utah state flag is waved during a rally for transgender rights on the front steps of the Utah State Capitol, Jan. 24, 2023.

After quickly moving through the House, the Utah Senate wasted no time approving SB16, which bans gender-affirming surgeries and hormone therapy for transgender minors.

Republican Sens. Todd Weiler, Woods Cross, and David Hinkins, Orangeville, joined all Democrats in opposition. The final vote was 20-8. West Valley City Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher is recovering from multiple strokes and was not present, though he has been a vocal critic of the bill in the past.

The bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox. Even if he does not sign the bill, it still becomes law in 10 days without his signature, per the Utah Constitution. The governor has not issued a statement following the vote, but it has been previously reported that he would not veto it.

In a letter addressing the governor, the ACLU of Utah is urging a veto of the bill.

“The ACLU of Utah is deeply concerned about the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people’s lives and medical care, and the grave violations of people’s constitutional rights it will cause,” writes Legal Director John Mejia.

He said the bill “violates the equal protection rights of transgender adolescents and the due process rights of their parents” and that it “clearly discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status.”

Along with a focus on teacher pay and school vouchers, lawmakers have moved quickly on the bill since the legislative session began a scant few weeks ago.

The Senate’s initial approval came on Jan. 20, but a different version was approved by the House six days later, sending the bill back for another vote. The House version removed a sunset date and included an immediate effective date.

Republican sponsor Sen. Michael Kennedy, a family physician from Alpine, said he tried to negotiate a compromise between lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates. With the changes made, he expects the bill to ultimately end up in the courts.

“I knew as I sent this bill to the House, as I've said over and over again, that they would have their way with this. And they did. I've tried along with others to do my best in this area. I would bet every dollar that I have in my bank account right now that this will be litigated.”

No organization has announced a lawsuit, though LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah has said it is “sure” someone will file a legal challenge.

“Everywhere so far in this country where some sort of ban or, you know, bar to access to care for transgender youth receiving medical care has been instituted, litigation has followed,” said Policy Director Marina Lowe.

Utah’s ban on transgender girls participating in girls’ sports is currently caught up in a lawsuit and on hold.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla said she is already looking toward the next steps for transgender youth.

“This is just the beginning of a process and we will continue to do our job as legislators,” said the Salt Lake City Democrat. “And one of those is to listen to them, and they're not invisible.”

After the vote, Kennedy said he is open to revisions to the law in the future.

“Is it perfect? Absolutely not,” he said. “But is it something that's useful? I believe it is. And does it need reformation? Definitely so. As time goes by, we'll have those conversations and do justice to the children in our state. So I am very sensitive to the fact that this is the first [bill like this] and we do have work yet to do. What does that look like and how do we proceed is going to be the question.

Another physician in the state Senate, Democrat Jen PlumbofSalt Lake City, said she will join Kennedy as those discussions go forward.

“I really do believe that the will is to do right by our kiddos and do right by what we're worried about in this arena,” she said. “And so I am looking forward to seeing where those opportunities are … [the vote] was rough, but we can do rough things and we can also learn from rough things and move on to be better.”

Updated: January 27, 2023 at 4:08 PM MST
Updated with a statement from the ACLU of Utah
Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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