Pro-family groups say four new laws threaten religious liberty.
The California legislature was a battleground for gender identity issues this year. Four landmark gender bills passed the state Senate and Assembly by the time the session ended Sep. 15, and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed all four.
On Oct. 4, Brown signed a bill that criminalizes long-term care facility employees’ “misgendering” of residents. The bill requires workers use transgender residents’ preferred pronouns and mandates that residents be allowed to self-identify their gender and use shared bedrooms and restrooms based on their gender identity, not biological sex.
Religious liberty advocates, including the California Family Council and the Pacific Justice Institute, said the bill threatened faith-based nursing homes and residential facilities with staff members who believe gender is unchangeable. After these groups pointed out the lack of religious liberty exemptions in a committee hearing for the bill, its author, state Sen. Scott Wiener, decried the “highly radical notion” that “religious views can create an exemption from complying with civil rights laws.”
“This is a movement in this country to try to completely gut civil rights protections and gender protections in the name of religion,” Wiener said.
In a case of strange bedfellows, two weeks ago the radical feminist group the Women’s Liberation Front issued a statement condemning the law because it “takes away the basic human rights of elderly and disabled women and girls to have a safe and private place away from men to use the toilet, shower, and sleep while in long-term medical care.”
On Oct. 15, the deadline for Brown to either sign or veto all bills, Brown signed the remaining three gender bills.
The “Gender Recognition Act” makes it easier for citizens to request a legal gender change on their birth certificates and introduces a third gender category, nonbinary, for state identification documents. Instead of requiring medical treatment and a court appearance, California will now require adults seeking a gender change just to submit an affidavit to the State Registrar. The bill also simplifies the process for parents to legally change the gender of their children.
Similarly, Senate Bill 310 makes it easier for a person in state prison to file a petition for a name or gender change. Existing law prohibits a prisoner from doing so without the permission of the secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Pro-family advocates argue the state legislature is methodically erasing biological gender from public discourse, a “fundamental breakdown of language.”
“Is gender a real thing, or the description of a feeling?” asked Greg Burt, director of capitol engagement for the California Family Council, a group that actively opposed all four measures.
“We believe government documents need to reflect biological facts for identification and medical purposes,” said Jonathan Keller, California Family Council CEO. “Secondly, the bill advances a falsehood; that being male or female, or no gender at all is a choice each person must make, not a fact to celebrate and accept. Laws like this will simply erase any meaningful gender definitions if being male or female is completely divorced from biological facts.”
The final measure, Senate Bill 396, expands transgender rights in the workplace. The bill requires employers with 50 or more employees to mandate training every two years on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation harassment. The measure also requires employers to display a poster on transgender rights and adds transgender and gender-nonconforming to the definition of an “individual with employment barriers” so they can use special state-designated services and programs.
— by Kiley Crossland