Two of the Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination are refusing to weigh in on a key culture-war moment—the governor of Ohio vetoing a bill protecting children from gender ideology.

That bill, called the Enact Ohio Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, would bar physicians from performing transgender-reassignment surgeries on children as well as from prescribing cross-sex hormones or drugs to block children’s puberty. It also would allow students to sue if they are deprived of a fair playing field in sports due to transgender activism (such as a biological boy playing on a girls’ volleyball team) and protect parental rights to raise their children according to their biological sex.

Since many high-profile lawmakers and conservatives have focused their efforts on fighting transgender activism in recent years, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of the SAFE Act drew the outrage of former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who slammed the Republican for failing to protect children.

Presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Chris Christie have not yet weighed in on the topic. Pressed by The Daily Signal to share their thoughts on the governor’s veto, both Haley and Christie remained silent.

Their reticence demonstrates a rift in the GOP field on the topic: While Trump, DeSantis, and Ramaswamy have indicated that lawmakers should act to protect children from destructive gender ideology, Haley and Christie have suggested that the law should stay out of the matter and parents should decide.

Haley has recently drawn heavy fire on the topic. In a June CBS interview clip that resurfaced shortly before the December presidential debate, though she criticized the idea of children undergoing permanent transgender sex changes before they turn 18, Haley suggested that “the law” should stay out of the matter.

“What care should be on the table when a 12-year-old child in this country assigned female at birth says, ‘Actually, I feel more comfortable living as a boy’?” asked her interviewer.

“Well, I think the law should stay out of it,” Haley said. “This is a job for the parents to handle.”

TOPSHOT - (From L) Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, former Governor from South Carolina and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the fourth Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on December 6, 2023. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the fourth Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Dec. 6, 2023. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

During the most recent presidential debates, moderator Megyn Kelly questioned Christie about his stances on this so-called gender-affirming care for children—transgender surgeries, hormones, and puberty blockers.

“How is it that you think a parent should be able to ‘OK’ these surgeries, never mind the sterilization of a child, and aren’t you way too out of step on this issue to be the Republican nominee?” she asked him.

“No, I’m not,” Christie responded, “because Republicans believe in less government, not more.” The presidential candidate went on to emphasize the importance of defending parental rights, though he indicated that he believes transgender interventions for children are dangerous.

Trump, DeSantis, and Ramaswamy clearly condemned DeWine’s veto.

“DeWine has fallen to the Radical Left,” Trump said in a post on Truth Social on Saturday, vowing that he would no longer promote the Republican governor. “No wonder he gets loudly booed in Ohio every time I introduce him at rallies, but I won’t be introducing him any more.”

“I’m finished with this ‘stiff.’ What was he thinking?” Trump asked. “The bill would have stopped child mutilation, and prevented men from playing in women’s sports.”

“Legislature will hopefully overturn,” he added. “Do it FAST!!!”

DeSantis similarly slammed DeWine, saying in a social media post: “The Ohio legislature should override the veto done by Trump-endorsed Gov. DeWine. I’ve signed both of these bills—and I was right to do so. Girls should be able to compete with fairness and integrity in sports. And these procedures are irreversible and should not be allowed, period.”

Ramaswamy also condemned the move, saying, “Shame on DeWine.”

“There are two genders,” the presidential candidate said in a social media post. “Boys shouldn’t compete with girls in girls’ sports. Kids shouldn’t be subjected to genital mutilation & chemical castration when they suffer mental health lapses. Shame on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine for this failure.”

DeWine framed his Friday veto as an effort to bring consensus on a divisive issue and to avoid having the government decide what medical decisions are best for children. He also echoed the claims of pro-transgender activists that children will commit suicide if they don’t undergo so-called gender-affirming care, such as testosterone or estrogen injections or double mastectomies.

“Were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government, knows better what is best for a child than the two people who love that child the most, the parents,” DeWine said.

The governor has not responded to requests for comment from The Daily Signal. Ohio lawmakers have vowed that they will overturn the governor’s veto, and have scheduled a special legislative session to do so, according to The Washington Stand.

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