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The disastrous moral harm of California’s transgender ‘refuge’ bill

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October 6, 2022

On Sept. 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a controversial new bill designed to promote California as a place of “refuge” and sanctuary for those seeking gender-affirming care. This is in response to how many states have sought to ban these types of medical treatments for youth and to punish medical providers and/or parents who allow it. After signing the bill into law, Newsom touted the openness and inclusivity of Calfornia as he decried the 22 Republican-led states who are currently seeking to block gender-affirming care for youth and children as demonizing and promoting hate toward transgender youth.

This type of bill coming from one of the most populous and influential states in the union is deeply concerning and immoral, as it will lead to irreparable harm for children, youth, and their families. What’s being promoted is a false view of the self under the auspices of moral autonomy and freedom — especially toward children and youth — that is at odds with basic biological and moral realities.

What is State Bil 107?

According to Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who led the effort, State Bill 107 was designed to reaffirm California as “a leader in protecting the civil rights and basic dignity of LGBTQ people and will help trans kids and their parents have a safe place to go if they are threatened with prosecution or criminalization for being who they are and seeking the care they need.” The authors frame it as a response to mental health issues and suicide among transgender youth. The bill had 12 co-authors from across the California General Assembly and the State Senate and was also co-sponsored by Equality California, Planned Parenthood, TransFamily Support Services, and Lieutenant Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

Essentially, SB 107 blocks out-of-state attempts to penalize families who may come to California for gender-affirming treatment and care or who have already sought services from any legal consequences for their decisions. According to Wiener’s office, the bill has three main components:

  1. It prohibits the enforcement of a law of another state that authorizes a state agency to remove a child from their parent or guardian based on the parent or guardian allowing their child to receive gender-affirming healthcare.
  1. It bars compliance in California with any out-of-state subpoena seeking health or other related information about people who come to California to receive gender-affirming care, if the subpoena relates to efforts to criminalize individuals or remove children from their homes for having received gender-affirming care.
  1. It prohibits law enforcement participation in the arrest or extradition of an individual that criminalizes allowing a person to receive or provide gender-affirming healthcare where that conduct is lawful in California and to the fullest extent permitted by federal law. It declares that it is California’s public policy that any out-of-state criminal arrest warrant for someone based on violating another state’s law against receiving gender-affirming care is the lowest priority for law enforcement in California.

Of note, the bill is centered around the autonomy of youth and children, as well as their parents, to seek gender-affirming care which includes hormone treatments, gender reassignment surgeries, and other types of care which affirm the choice of the individual to bodily and gender autonomy. SB 107 also adds a layer of data and medical privacy for individuals since it bars California from cooperating with out-of-state subpoenas if the subpoena is intended to bring charges against an individual seeking these types of treatments. This is similar to recent bills passed about data protection in light of renewed questions surrounding privacy as it relates to illegal abortion procedures. One important aspect of this bill is that a severability clause was added which ensures that if a court strikes down parts of the bill as unconstitutional, then the rest will remain enforceable. 

In remarks made upon the signing of the bill by Gov. Newsom, Wiener said “With SB 107 signed into law, California is forcefully pushing back against the anti-LGBTQ hatred spreading across parts of our nation. The rainbow wave is real, and it’s coming.” The bill has led to 19 other similar ‘refuge’ bills across states all designed to provide greater access to gender-affirming care and provide safe haven for those seeking these services. The bill will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

What is behind this bill?

While the stated aims of the bill are to provide a refuge from states who have banned or limited access to gender-affirming services and gender transition care, SB 107 is the latest push to normalize these types of services and offerings nationwide for those who identify as transgender and to codify various civil protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Given the size and influence of California, these types of bills will not stay isolated to the state. Oher states will use this as model legislation, as has happened with a host of other issues such as digital privacy and abortion.

This bill is also framed in light of a growing chorus of concern over the state of personal privacy and moral autonomy after the Dobbs decision issued earlier this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the decision itself was limited to abortion in the majority opinion, some have sought to use this decision to push for a host of bills codifying rights to contraception and same-sex marriage. As I have argued previously, abortion as personal autonomy is the linchpin to the entire sexual revolution which is rooted in a false sense of radical individualism and moral autonomy.

This gender-affirming care bill comes on the heals of another highly controversial and politicized package of bills signed into law on Sept. 26, which promotes California as a similar type of sanctuary state and safe haven for abortions. The state also launched a website providing information about abortion services — including detailed information for out-of-state residents on how to obtain an abortion in Calfornia. The website declares that all people have a legal right to an abortion, regardless of what may be legal in their state of residence.

Newsom, who is up for reelection in November, has recently been behind a mass billboard campaign across California, and even in other states that seek to limit access to abortion, promoting abortion tourism to the state. The campaign promotes the message “Need an abortion? California is ready to help,” and goes as far to cite a Scripture reference about loving our neighbor as yourself in support of abortion. This campaign has also been expanded by Planned Parenthood to include transit hubs in California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, and Maryland with the message promoting the state’s pro-abortion policies. 

What about parental rights?

One of the most controversial aspects of this bill, outside of promoting radical gender transition surgeries and treatments for youth and children, centers on the role of parents and doctors in these types of life-altering and often irreversible decisions. These treatments can include hormone treatments, puberty blockers, and surgeries that forever alter one’s body. Surgeries could include facial reconstruction, chest (top) surgeries in which healthy breast tissue is removed or augmentation/enhancements are made, and even genital (bottom) surgery where genitalia are transformed and reconstructed. Other care can include voice therapy and gender-affirming counseling.

In a letter on Sept. 29 to the state senate, Newsom wrote, “In California we believe in equality and acceptance. We believe that no one should be prosecuted or persecuted for getting the care they need—including gender-affirming care. Parents know what’s best for their kids, and they should be able to make decisions around the health of their children without fear. We must take a stand for parental choice.” Interestingly, some aspects of SB 107 do not seem to align with Newsom’s own words about how parents know what is best for their kids. The bill raises a host of concerns about what happens when a parent or parents choose not to allow their child or youth to seek such care. As others have noted, this bill goes as far as to allow children this level of autonomy and rights even without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

How should Christians think about these issues?

Given the enormous consequences of this bill and its far-reaching promotion of moral autonomy and the rights of youth over that of their parents, there is much to be concerned about here. This bill may face significant battles in the courts over multiple provisions including parental rights, which is why the severability clause was added last minute before its passage. In response to this push, Christians must be wise and discerning as these false visions of reality are being promoted as common-sense measures in line with our contemporary culture’s fixation on defining our own realities and moral autonomy.

First, Christians should be sober minded about these situations. Part of a Christian vision of society includes upholding basic goods and God’s design for men, women, and families. God not only created us male and female in line with biological realities, but also designed the family unit as a basic building block of society. The family and the individual are pre-political, meaning that governments should seek to honor God’s design for marriage and sexuality given that they are rooted in the very nature of what it means to be human.

This type of bill seeks to put the family in the crosshairs of the sexual revolution by prioritizing the autonomy of youth and children over that of their parents. Parents, by nature, are to protect, care for, and seek the best for their children regardless of what the state may promote. The family is tasked by God with this grave responsibility and to give an account for how they raise their children into mature and wise adults. Youth and children are simply ill-equipped to make these life-altering decisions, and any provision that severs the unity of the family should be immediately called into question and subsequently rejected.

Second, Christians must speak into these matters. Many proponents of this bill will argue that it is simply not the role of others (specifically including the church) to speak into private issues of individuals and families, especially in regards to questions of sexuality and gender. This cuts to the core of the argument driving these bills since humans were not created to live self-determined and autonomous lives. Not only is true moral autonomy impossible, but we often fail to know what is truly best for us in many situations, especially when dealing with high-stakes gender-affirming care. 

Truth is not a matter of mere opinion or preference, but it is established by God and is to be discovered and cherished by all. Christians must resolutely promote the good of others (Matt. 22:37-39), and this means directly speaking to the realities of being made male and female (Gen. 1:27) and the grave threats to God’s design for marriage and sexuality encountered in our culture today. We must do so with lavish grace to those struggling with a host of sexuality issues, including gender-dysphoria.

Christians must remember it is not loving to speak a lie or affirm something that is simply not true, no matter the cultural pressure to do otherwise. But we also must do so remembering that those caught in these lies are made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26) and deserve our love and care. Many of us know and deeply care for those in our communities and families who are walking through these types of issues. Regardless of one’s sexual brokenness, there is hope in the name of Jesus for radical transformation, just as there is for all who sin (Rom. 3:23). 

True dignity, value, and worth are not found in our sexual identities or expressions but in how God has made us. These truths directly counter the lies of the sexual revolution as well as the rampant ideal of moral autonomy which is fixated on the individual as reigning supreme. May the Church be known for speaking the truth, loving God, and loving those left in the wake of the sexual revolution’s failed promises and who have been harmed by this type of disatrous policy in Calfornia.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as a research fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. He is the author or editor of several books including The Age of AI, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, and The Digital Public Square. In addition to his … Read More