US federal judge allows Oklahoma ban on gender-affirming care for minors to take effect News
US federal judge allows Oklahoma ban on gender-affirming care for minors to take effect

A federal judge allowed Oklahoma’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors to take effect on Thursday. In his opinion, Judge John Heil, III stated that the plaintiffs asking for injunctive relief “failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits” of their multiple constitutional claims.

The plaintiffs challenged the law, SB 613, on several constitutional grounds. First, they alleged the law’s ban on gender-affirming care exclusively for minors is a form of age discrimination and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Judge Hein rejected this claim by citing numerous cases to summarize ways in which “American law” restricted minors from entering contracts, being held criminally liable and purchasing certain goods. He stated that legislatures routinely enact laws that make a distinction “between adults who are ready to make life-altering decisions and minors who, at least in the eyes of the legislature, are not.”

Secondly, plaintiffs claimed the ban amounted to a sex-based classification, a distinction also prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause. They alleged that the law’s use of  “explicit gender term” such as “sex” and “gender” showed the intent to discriminate against individuals of a certain “sex” or “gender.” However, the judge interpreted the language not reflecting the person seeking care but describing the care itself. He stated, “[t]he use of these “gendered terms” reflects the nature of the procedure being regulated, not an intention to discriminate between people of different sexes.”

Additionally, the judge rejected the plaintiff parents’ argument that the law infringed on a fundamental right of parents to make decisions for their children. The judge stated that while this right has traditionally been honored it is not “absolute,” or “without limits.”

Judge Hein, III analyzed the claims under rational basis review which requires the government to show its actions are related to a legitimate government interest and do not impact a fundamental right or suspect class of people. In choosing rational basis, the judge stated that “the Supreme Court has not recognized transgender status as a suspect class,” and “has repeatedly declined to do so.” Furthermore, he stated that even under heightened review, the plaintiff’s claims would fail due to the tradition of legal restrictions placed on minors and the law’s wording targeting medical procedures and not individuals.

The ruling shows a growing divide in the federal court system on how to approach gender-affirming care bans. Federal courts allowed bans in Tennessee and Kentucky to proceed. However, courts in Montana, Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas, Texas and Florida have issued injunctions or ruled bans unconstitutional.