Court rules in favor of Tennessee ban on gender-affirming care, Kentucky likely to follow
Published 5:25 am Friday, July 14, 2023
BY SARAH MICHELS
On June 28, enforcement of Kentucky’s recently passed bill to ban puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender minors was halted by a federal judge.
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But now, after a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 allowing a similar law to take effect in Tennessee, the fate of Kentucky’s Senate Bill 150 is again in uncertain legal territory.
Tennessee’s ban applied to all gender-affirming care for transgender minors. It states that Tennessee medical providers cannot provide treatment that would “enable a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”
The law includes exceptions for patients with congenital defects, early puberty, disease or physical injury and allows those already on long-term treatment plans to continue them until March.
It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but three transgender minors, their parents and a doctor sued in federal district court.
They argued that the law violated their right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution because it discriminated based on sex, since some cisgender and intersex minors could still receive the medical treatments being banned for transgender minors.
The lower court halted enforcement of some parts of the Tennessee ban – the sections on puberty blockers and hormone therapy – while a larger lawsuit played out, much like in Kentucky.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti then filed an emergency motion asking to reverse the temporary enforcement ban. On Saturday, the Sixth Circuit granted it, allowing the law to take effect immediately.
In his majority opinion, Chief Judge Sutton said that the court lifted the enforcement ban because it is likely that the state of Tennessee will win the larger lawsuit on the merits of its case.
The Sixth Circuit is the first federal court to allow a ban on gender-affirming treatments to take effect. Other courts have blocked similar bans in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Kentucky.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the courts in the Western District of Kentucky, which was where SB150 enforcement was blocked last week.
On Friday, one day before the Tennessee decision, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed an emergency motion challenging the most recent ruling on Kentucky’s ban.
“It’s indefensible that leftist activists are disguising sterilization and genital surgeries as pediatric care for vulnerable children,” Cameron said in a statement. “Child mutilation is illegal in our commonwealth, and these reckless hormone interventions are based on an irrational ideology that ignores scientific evidence.”
In his motion, Cameron said that gender-affirming treatments lead to higher rates of mental illness and suicide.
The Sixth Circuit will likely rule on Cameron’s emergency motion, too. Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, SB150’s sponsor, also weighed in.
“In our mission to protect all Kentucky children, including transgender children, I’m pleased with this morning’s victory in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which I trust through the motion filed by Attorney General Daniel Cameron will soon lift the stay on SB 150,” Wise said in a statement. “The court has agreed the legislature has an interest in protecting the health and welfare of youth in the commonwealth.”
The national and Tennessee chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union decried the ruling in a statement.
“This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors and their families,” the statement read.
“As we and our clients consider our next steps, we want all the transgender youth of Tennessee to know this fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated and Tennessee is made a safer place to raise every family.”
Neither the Tennessee nor the Kentucky bans have fully made it through the larger lawsuit process, which will likely include several more challenges and appeals.