The Indiana Legislature overrode Tuesday the Republican governor’s veto of a bill barring male-born athletes from participating in girls’ sports, drawing an immediate legal challenge on the hot-button issue.
The Republican-controlled Legislature easily overcame Gov. Eric Holcomb’s March 21 veto of House Bill 1041 at the one-day “technical session,” with the House voting 67-28 and the Senate voting 32-15 to pass the legislation.
“The purpose of this bill is to maintain fair competition in girls’ sports now and in the future,” said Republican state Rep. Michelle Davis, the bill’s sponsor and a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
“As a former Division I athlete, I know that female athletes deserve fair competition and an even playing field, and this bill ensures just that: a fair and equal opportunity to compete for Hoosier girls,” she said.
Mr. Holcomb said in a statement after the vote that “I stand behind my decision to veto HB 1041.”
“My position hasn’t changed. There remains zero cases and the process, which is managed by IHSAA [Indiana High School Athletic Association] is working,” he said.
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Moments later, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana announced that it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 10-year-old identified as A.M. “who plays on her school’s all-girls softball team.”
“The new law, which would go into effect July 1, 2022, would deny A.M. the right to rejoin her team because she is a transgender girl,” said the ACLU.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana claimed that the law violates Title IX as well as the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
At least three other states — Idaho, Tennessee and West Virginia — are fighting legal challenges against such measures.
Indiana becomes the 17th state to enact laws aimed at protecting fairness in female sports over the objections of LGBTQ advocates, who argue that the measures discriminate against male-to-female transgender athletes seeking to compete based on gender identity.
Both Kentucky and Utah approved similar laws earlier this year after Republican-led state legislatures overrode gubernatorial vetoes. The Kansas Legislature tried but failed last month to override the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
“Indiana now joins a growing coalition of states that have acted to preserve fair competition for female athletes, ensuring Indiana’s girls will not face the losses that come with allowing males to compete in women’s sports,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Christiana Kiefer said.
The outcome of Tuesday’s session was all but preordained, given that the state requires only a simple majority to override a veto. Even so, Senate Democrats argued for about an hour against the bill.
“It really makes no sense to me that we’ve assembled today to just double down on being hateful and discriminatory,” said Democratic state Sen. Shelli Yoder.
Democratic state Sen. J.D. Ford said that “this isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue,” pointing out that the Republican Holcomb, as well as GOP governors in North Dakota and Utah, have vetoed such bills.
“Clearly, there are Democrats and Republicans who think that by passing this law, it would be a terrible thing for our state,” Mr. Ford said. “And I much like them agree that House Bill 1041 is unnecessary, unkind and unconstitutional.”
In his veto message, Mr. Holcomb said he found no evidence of any existing problem with fairness in girls’ sports and expressed concerns about applying the measure consistently in different counties and school districts.
American Principles Project President Terry Schilling said that Mr. Holcomb “had an easy opportunity earlier this year to join dozens of other state executives in defending girls’ sports, but instead, he surrendered to the pressure of woke ideologues trying to eliminate biological reality.”
“While this might have been the norm for Republicans a few years ago, voters now have made it clear they expect their leaders to stand against this insanity,” Mr. Schilling said. “Backing down from critical fights like this is simply not acceptable anymore.”
The Indiana measure applies only to secondary schools, but Ms. Kiefer said she hoped the state Legislature would revisit the issue with a bill for collegiate sports.
“We commend the Indiana legislators who took a stand for female athletes by overriding this veto, and we are hopeful they will act quickly to extend these protections to collegiate athletes, especially since the NCAA has failed in its duty to preserve fair and equal opportunity for women,” said Ms. Kiefer.
In March, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first male-born athlete to win a women’s Division I athletics title. Thomas complied with NCAA rules requiring at least a year of testosterone suppression before competing.
The NCAA said in January it will defer to national sports governing authorities on policies for transgender athletes, but then made an exception for the 2022 championships, saying it would be unfair to change the rules mid-season.