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

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In his opinion, Judge John Heil, III stated that the plaintiffs seeking injunctive relief “failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits” of their multiple constitutional claims. Judge John Heil III wrote in his opinion that plaintiffs seeking injunctive remedies “failed on the merits to demonstrate a likelihood of winning” their constitutional claims. They argued that the law’s prohibition on gender affirming care for minors was a form age discrimination, and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hein dismissed this claim, citing several cases that summarized the ways “American law” prohibited minors from signing contracts, being criminally responsible and buying 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. The plaintiffs claimed that the use of the “explicit terms” “sex”, “gender”, and similar words in the law showed an intent to discriminate. However, the court interpreted this language as describing care rather than the individual seeking it. He stated, “

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.”[t]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 have allowed Tennessee and Kentucky bans to go forward. However, courts in Montana, Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas, Texas and Florida have issued injunctions or ruled bans unconstitutional.