The Kansas legislature became the first in the nation to give final passage to a bill that defines what it means to be a woman, setting the stage for a veto battle with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved Tuesday on a 28-12 vote the Women’s Bill of Rights, which defines “male” and “female” based on biological sex at birth for purposes of single-sex spaces such as public restrooms, athletic teams and dormitories.
Ms. Kelly, who has vetoed three times bills to bar biological males from female sports, is expected to veto the legislation, but Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Two House Democrats joined Republicans to pass the bill.
“The Women’s Bill of Rights protects the right to privacy and safety for females in restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, prisons, locker rooms, and other areas where biology, safety, and/or privacy are involved,” said the House Republican leadership in a statement.
Opponents decried Senate Bill 180 as a “bathroom bill” aimed at preventing transgender people from using the facilities that correspond with their gender identity and “erasing” them by declaring there are two sexes, male and female.
“I am what they are scared of,” Ian Benalcazar, a 13-year-old transgender-identifying Kansan, said during a recent LGBTQ rally outside the statehouse. “I am a human being and I deserve to be treated as such, and I deserve to be happy.”
Those testifying in favor of the bill include 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer Riley Gaines, a spokesperson for the Independent Women’s Forum, who competed against male-born swimmer Lia Thomas during the 2022 NCAA Division I championships.
“The leadership of Kansan politicians is a model for the rest of the country to follow,” said Ms. Gaines. “They are unafraid to codify in law what it means to be a woman. I applaud all the state senators and state representatives for their leadership and commitment on this issue and hope other states follow suit moving forward.”
Ms. Kelly told reporters last week that “I’ve always been consistently in favor of policy that is inclusive and that protects the rights of all Kansans,” according to the Kansas City Star.
The bill was amended to account for people born with Differences of Sexual Development, also known as intersex, by saying their accommodations are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Intersex people, who make up an estimated 1.7% of the population, may have conditions including ambiguous genitalia and chromosomal patterns other than XX and XY.
Kansas is the first state to pass the Women’s Bill of Rights, whose language was drafted last year by the right-tilting Independent Women’s Voice and Independent Women’s Law Center, and the left-tilting Women’s Liberation Front.
Lauren Bone, attorney and policy advisor for the Women’s Liberation Front, said that opponents want to paint the bill as “anti-LGBT, but lesbian and bisexual women are disproportionately represented where female-only housing is most critical, such as homeless shelters and prisons.”
“This is why a feminist nonprofit like WoLF teamed up with IWV to write the Women’s Bill of Rights; so that laws protecting them and all marginalized women cannot be changed outside of the democratic process,” she said.
The Independent Women’s Law Center said the bill doesn’t change current law, but “preserves the legislature’s authority to determine whether, and in what circumstances, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, athletic teams, locker rooms, and dormitories should remain single-sex or be opened to biological males who identify as female.”
“And by adopting the federal intermediate scrutiny standard for evaluating sex-based programs, WBoR prevents judges from declaring unconstitutional programs specifically designed to promote women’s entrepreneurship and opportunity,” the center said.
The Arkansas legislature passed Tuesday a bill making it a misdemeanor to use opposite-sex restrooms and changing rooms if minors are present, but only if they do so “for the purpose of arousing or gratifying a sexual desire.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.