South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has vetoed a bill that would have required people using public bathrooms and locker rooms to use those matching their biological sex, halting an effort by his fellow Republicans to resist the Obama administration on the issue.
H.B. 1008 passed South Dakota’s legislature by a healthy margin in February, and would have made it the first state to pass a bill restricting the transgendered from using the bathroom of their choice. The bill was particularly focused on public schools, and would have barred schools from letting students use bathrooms and locker rooms assigned to the opposite biological sex (though it would allow them to create gender-neutral facilities for those who want them).
Supporters argued the bill would protect young people from having unwanted encounters with the opposite sex while in locker rooms, while opponents said the bill was simply discriminatory against the transgendered.
Daugaard justified his veto, though, by saying the bill infringed on the rights of local school districts to set their own policies.
“As policymakers in South Dakota, we often recite that the best government is the government closest to the people,” said Daugaard in a statement. “Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity.”
But Daugaard’s veto may also have been caused by heavy pressure he received from transgender activists from both inside and outside the state. When the bill first came up for consideration Daugaard showed little opposition, but he was subjected to a heavy lobbying effort by Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and other organizations. Notably, after Daugaard said he had never met a transgender person before, activists arranged for him to have a private meeting with several transgender teenagers last week.
Had the bill been signed, it would have put South Dakota in open defiance of the Obama administration, which has argued Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination requires all schools to allow students to choose a bathroom that matches their selected gender identity. The administration has already intervened in several lawsuits on the matter, and South Dakota’s bill almost certainly would have led to another.
South Dakota’s legislature is heavily Republican, so lawmakers could potentially try to override Daugaard’s veto. But in the Senate, the bill only passed by a 20-15 margin, meaning at least four senators would have to switch their votes to reach the necessary two-thirds threshold.
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