South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed legislation barring male-born athletes from girls’ and women’s scholastic sports, drawing kudos from advocates for fairness in female athletics and criticism from the transgender rights and gender identity movements.
The legislation signed Monday makes South Carolina the 16th state with a law requiring students to compete based on their birth or biological sex in reaction to rising concerns over male-born athletes who identify as female going up against girls and women.
The Save Women’s Sports Act, or House Bill 4608, won final passage May 10 in the House by a vote of 70-33. The Senate passed it on the third reading by 30-10.
A student’s sex is determined by his or her birth certificate filed “at or near the time of the student’s birth.”
Among those commending the Republican governor’s move was Christiana Kiefer, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is embroiled in a legal fight on behalf of Connecticut female athletes.
“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. We welcome South Carolina to the growing number of states that have acted to preserve fair competition for all females, whether in grade school or college,” Kiefer said. “When the law ignores biological differences, it’s women and girls who bear the brunt of the harm.”
On the other side was the Human Rights Campaign, which called the measure “a shameful bill and a stain on Governor McMaster’s record.”
“This bill is not about fairness for women, it’s about attacking a marginalized group that is already bearing the weight of discrimination,” HRC campaign state legislative director and senior counsel Cathryn Oakley said. “History will remember Governor McMaster’s disregard for compassion, humanity, and basic human rights.”
The South Carolina measure is the eighth to become law in the 2022 legislative session. In Utah, the bill was vetoed in March by the Republican Gov. Spencer Cox but overridden by the GOP-controlled state Legislature.
The same thing happened last month in Kentucky, where legislators overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto. In Kansas, the Legislature failed to override the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who said the bill was “harmful to students and their families and it’s bad for business.”
The Indiana Legislature is expected to consider an override of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto later this month.
Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, said that the issue is becoming a “litmus test” for Republicans.
“With 16 states now having taken this step, there is no excuse left for those states that haven’t, particularly those led by Republicans,” Schilling said. “This is now a litmus-test issue for the GOP, and voters will be paying attention to what their leaders either do or fail to do as we approach the midterms.”
Supporters of such legislation argue that male-born athletes are taking titles intended for girls and women, citing University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas as an example.
The Ivy League senior became the first male-born athlete to win an NCAA Division I crown in March, smashing records and winning titles in women’s contests after three years on the men’s team. Thomas underwent more than a year of testosterone suppression before competing as required by NCAA rules.
“When males are allowed to compete in female sports competitions, they can and do take championship titles and other elite opportunities that were meant for girls,” Family Policy Alliance spokesperson Meridian Baldacci said. “But in South Carolina, female athletes from kindergarten to college can know that they have a level playing field, and a fair shot at the opportunities meant just for them.”
At least two of the state measures, those in Idaho and West Virginia, have been blocked by federal courts pending legal challenges alleging that the measures violate anti-discrimination laws.
“Transgender kids are playing school sports because it’s what kids often do to make friends, get exercise, and learn what it takes to be part of a team,” Ms. Oakley said. “Transgender people have participated uneventfully in school athletics for decades, and this issue is simply manufactured to further distract and divide us.”
The state laws vary, with some covering K-12 as well as collegiate sports, while others are limited to high school and middle school.
A similar bill failed last month in the Georgia Legislature, but what did pass was a measure allowing the Georgia High School Association to require students to compete based on their birth-certificate sex. The association voted to do so earlier this month.