In the lead-up to the Civil War, pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers rushed to Kansas to determine whether the Sunflower State would enshrine the “peculiar institution,” releasing a bloodletting that foreshadowed the larger war to come. This year, Kansas finds itself in the middle of a similarly ideological battle, a focal point in a debate about truth with ramifications for justice.
In April, the Republican-majority Kansas Legislature overrode the Democratic governor’s veto of SB 180, the Women’s Bill of Rights. In this bill, the Kansas Legislature had the audacity to define “sex” and related terms in a biological way—specifically in the way scientists and legislators had defined the term until just a few years ago.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, did not just veto the bill, she directed the government to ignore it. The state’s Republican attorney general, Kris Kobach, sued to block the Kelly administration from endorsing a view of sex that conflicts with the law. A court then issued a temporary injunction requiring Kelly to follow the law until Nov. 1, while the legal case proceeds.
The Kansas Department of Revenue replied with yet another legal action, claiming that Kobach lacked the legal authority as attorney general to file his lawsuit.
When The Associated Press reported the Department of Revenue’s move late last month, reporter John Hanna revealed the central issue in the litigation—the meaning of the word “sex” in Kansas law and the ideology that presents an individual’s vaguely defined sense of “gender” as fundamentally superior to it.
“Kobach argues that allowing people to change their gender identity on state IDs—which the state labels as their ‘sex’—violates a Kansas law that took effect July 1 and rolled back transgender rights,” AP’s Hanna wrote.
Notice the sleight of hand: Hanna refers to “gender identity on state IDs,” yet the most recent version of Kansas state driver’s licenses uses the word “sex.”
The very Kansas Department of Revenue that is challenging Kobach’s lawsuit published images of what a “Real ID” version of the driver’s license would look like, and those images plainly show that “sex,” not “gender identity,” appears on the license.
The Kansas government has good reasons to categorize residents by biological sex, rather than a nebulous idea such as gender identity. The text of SB 180 presents the categories clearly by providing definitions:
An individual’s ‘sex’ means an individual’s sex at birth, either male or female;
A ‘female’ means an individual whose biological reproductive system is
developed to produce ova;
A ‘male’ means an individual whose biological reproductive system is developed
to fertilize the ova of a female;
‘Woman’ and ‘girl’ refer to human females, and ‘man’ and ‘boy’ refer to human
‘Mother’ means a parent of the female sex, and ‘father’ means a parent of the
male sex; and
With respect to biological sex, separate accommodations are not inherently
This debate centers on a question of truth: Is biological sex the fundamental reality that should inform good government policy, or should “gender identity” become the cornerstone in law?
Transgender advocates push for gender identity in the name of fairness to an allegedly persecuted minority, but they often overlook or minimize the natural ramifications of deprioritizing biological sex in policy.
Most human beings are clearly male or clearly female. The transgender activist movement seizes on the few exceptions—those who suffer from disorders of sex development—to suggest that sex is not binary. But the purpose of biological sex is reproduction, and humans reproduce only one way.
The sex binary informs the chemical makeup of men and women, with profound effects on bodily development. Differences in size and body shape have clear ramifications in sports, women’s shelters, separate bathrooms and changing rooms, and other situations.
Republicans in the Kansas Legislature dubbed SB 180 the Women’s Bill of Rights because it aims to protect women’s spaces from the intrusion of biological males. Males enjoy some physical advantages—such as heart size—over females in certain sports, especially after puberty.
For this reason, it makes sense to prevent biological males from competing with biological females. Many photos of Lia Thomas—a biological male who competed in men’s swimming before joining the women’s swimming team—illustrate this point.
It also makes sense to protect women from the prying eyes of men, who may claim to identify as women to gain access to locker rooms to peep on women in various stages of undress. Although most men who claim to identify as “transgender women” may not pose such a threat, the nebulous nature of “gender identity” opens the door to many abuses. If authorities open women’s locker rooms and changing rooms to biological men who claim to identify as women, how do they plan to identify and exclude the peeping Toms (or worse, the would-be molesters)?
It also makes sense to have accurate medical records focus on biology rather than identity. In 2019, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on a hospital mix-up that resulted in the death of a baby. A pregnant woman had arrived at the hospital experiencing abdominal pains, but her records said she was a man because this woman identified as transgender. Due to inaccurate records, the hospital failed to treat her correctly, and her baby died as a result.
Although biological sex is rather straightforward, gender identity is far more nebulous. If the government adopts the idea of transgender identity, when should it allow men to present themselves as women? How does the government keep women safe from sports cheats or peeping Toms? Should the government require hormones and surgery as proof of a person’s intention to truly “transition” to the opposite sex?
Even these intense interventions won’t make a man capable of getting pregnant or a woman capable of siring children.
Democrats such as Kelly claim that enshrining the truth of biological sex in law would further “discrimination” against those who say they identify as transgender. They seem to prioritize preventing ill-defined harms related to societal acceptance while ignoring the possibility of concrete harms such as rape in girls’ bathrooms.
In her statement vetoing the bill, Kelly wrote: “Companies have made it clear that they are not interested in doing business with states that discriminate against workers and their families. By stripping away rights from Kansans and opening the state up to expensive and unnecessary lawsuits, these bills would hurt our ability to continue breaking economic records and landing new business deals.”
The Kansas Legislature wisely rejected this red-herring argument. If companies wish to abandon states over commonsense laws, they have that prerogative. Other parts of Kelly’s statement, however, suggest that the governor’s real concern isn’t economic but moral. Kelly seems far more focused on the “rights” of men who claim to identify as women than on the rights of women who may find themselves forced to change alongside men.
As in the case of “Bleeding Kansas,” the issue at stake in the Sunflower State reflects a heated debate across the nation. In 2023, the governor’s office stands on the side of the new transgender ideology, while the Republican-majority Legislature stands on the side of biological reality.
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