Monday, March 13, 2017

Religious Views on Gender Laws Are at Odds With Science

A few weeks ago Katie Couric did an excellent documentary on the National Geographic Channel called "Gender Revolution" that looked at the science on transgender individuals.   The show should be mandatory viewing for every Republican member of Congress, every Republican in state legislatures, and every right wing hate spewing "Christian" pastor (Christian is in quotation marks since these pastors are the antithesis of Christian behavior).  Among other things, the show looked at medical science's knowledge of in vitro development of fetuses and how hormones influence not only outward physical gender, but also how one perceives their gender internally.  It is this hormonal influence and interplay that causes some to be born outwardly one gender when internally they deem themsevlse the opposite gender of their bodies.  Something similar happens to gays and lesbians that causes what the "godly folk" deem to be sinful attraction to those of the same sex. Science and medicine tell us that there is nothing "wrong" about these attractions and internal feelings of gender.  They are natural phenomenon and no "choice" is involved in such individuals love or view themselves.  Only religion - specifically Abrahamic religions that trace their origins to myths propounded by uneducated Bronze Age herders - says that same sex attraction and/or gender identity are wrong.  Sadly, rather than admit these truths and the reality of the source of their beliefs, the  "godly folk" who are in my view desperate to maintain their make believe fantasy world, reject science and medical knowledge and cling to ignorance.  In the process, they condemn gays, lesbians, and the transgender.  A column in Time bu a judge and former Justice Department official looks at the fallacy of applying religious belief to the issue of gender.  Here are highlights:
A person’s biological sex seems simple but is deceptively complex. It appears to be binary: An XX chromosomal pair is female, and an XY chromosomal pair is male. Doctors look at a newborn’s genitalia, pronounce the baby a boy or a girl, and the birth certificate reflects that sex assignment.
Deep-seated religious beliefs, cultural constructs, the regulation of sports (such as the rules confronted by Texas high-school wrestler Mack Beggs) and recent laws are premised on the bedrock belief that each of us is either a man or a woman. Yet the reality is that today in the United States alone there are approximately one million people who — from the moment of birth — cannot clearly be defined as either male or female.
This physiological truth is unrelated to whether someone is straight, gay or transgender. Many individuals are born with sex chromosome, endocrine or hormonal irregularities, and their birth certificates are inaccurate because in the United States birth records are not designed to allow doctors to designate an ambiguous sex. Countless people likely have no idea that they fall into this group. The more we learn about our DNA, the more that biological sex — from the moment of conception — looks like an intricate continuum and less like two tidy boxes. This understanding makes it virtually impossible for judges to consistently apply a law that permits or prohibits conduct based on whether someone is a man or a woman.
On February 22, the Trump Administration reversed the Obama policy [on transgender students]. Since President Trump was elected, Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming lawmakers have introduced legislation that would determine access to public restrooms and changing rooms based on one’s assigned sex at birth.
The most prominent case that has been in the crosshairs of this debate is G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board (“Grimm”), which challenges a Virginia school board’s policy that requires students to use bathrooms according to biological sex.
Many people share the ubiquitous notion that biological sex falls into two, mutually exclusive categories. In 2009 my perspective changed when I read an article written by a woman who learned shortly after marriage that she and her husband couldn’t have biological children because she had an XY chromosomal pairing. While she looked like a woman, and she and her parents had always believed she was female, from a genetic standpoint she was a man. The article was published the year after California passed Prop 8, a version of DOMA.
I was curious whether her situation was an obscure medical anomaly that was statistically and legally irrelevant. It wasn’t. A regularly cited 1991 study of nearly 35,000 newborn children found that 1 in 426 did not have strictly XX or XY chromosomes. In addition, the World Health Organization reports that 1 in every 2,000 births worldwide are visibly intersex, because the child’s genitals are either incomplete or ambiguous, which equates to five newborn Americans a day. This represents a sizable U.S. population that cannot be ignored by the law.
If such individuals have the right to equal protection, to privacy and to use a public restroom, what clear and science-based legal principle can our judiciary employ to determine whether they lawfully used the correct bathroom? Reliance on a birth certificate might appear to be a legitimate method to establish sex. But birth certificates are surprisingly fluid documents. They are amended regularly to add or remove parents due to adoption or because DNA results reveal paternity that is inconsistent with the original record. They are also amended to address biology.
In 2016, I received a request from parents seeking to change the name and sex of their baby’s birth certificate. The parents were initially informed they gave birth to a daughter. Genital irregularities and months of additional tests revealed that from a chromosomal and hormonal standpoint their child was, while not strictly genetically male, more “properly" categorized as a son. I granted their request to modify the birth certificate to designate the child as male. The new birth certificate replaced the original, yet neither was precisely accurate from a biological perspective.
The United States’ stringent adherence to a two-sex paradigm is inconsistent with science and incongruous with the historic and modern understanding of sex throughout many regions of the world. Dating back to 2000 B.C., three or more sexes can be found in classical Greek, Sanskrit and Hindu texts. Currently, numerous countries recognize a third or indeterminate sex including Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, Nepal and New Zealand. If the bill introduced into the California state legislature in January 2017 passes, California will be the first state in the U.S. to recognize a third, non-binary gender, for birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
Neither DOMA nor HB2 reference gay or transgender individuals, but there is little doubt that both laws were designed with those populations in mind. When the Obama Administration announced its opposition to HB2, several states swiftly voiced disapproval. Then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (now the Administrator of the EPA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education stating, “Your determination thus elevates the status of transgender students over those who would define their sex based on biology and who would seek to have their definition honored in the most private of places.” The Trump Administration guidance letter reversing the Obama Administration’s policy referenced the ruling of a federal district court in Texas that “held that the term ‘sex’ unambiguously refers to biological sex.”
Ironically, Trump's and Pruitt’s arguments are perhaps the most compelling ones against HB2 and similar sex- and gender-based legislation. Our biological variability means that a two-bathroom, based on two-sex approach is inadequate — and that’s before judges ever get to the issue of gender identity.
In the United States, judges are obligated to see the world through a secular lens. They must apply the law without the influence of any religious construct or political agenda. If modern science recognizes that sex has countless natural permutations, and if birth certificates, physical observation and even chromosomal testing cannot reliably categorize every individual as either male or female, then our judiciary cannot be required to make gender findings antithetical to that reality.
When legislators blur the lines of church and state and enact laws that permit or prohibit conduct based on biologic gender as only male or female — whether it is for the purpose of authorizing marriage or designating the use of public bathrooms — they place an impossible burden on our judiciary, and ultimately on our country and all of its people.

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