Tennessee Bans Minors’ Interstate Gender Transitioning Without Parental Consent

The measure, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, is scheduled to take effect July 1 unless blocked by a court.

Tennessee State Capitol at sunset
Tennessee State Capitol at sunset (photo: Justin Sienkiewicz / Shutterstock)

Tennessee has enacted a law making it illegal for an adult to take a child 17 or younger out of the state for gender transitioning without the permission of one of the child’s parents. 

The measure, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, is scheduled to take effect July 1 unless blocked by a court. Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law on Tuesday, May 28. 

Supporters call it a parental-rights bill. Opponents say it’s unnecessary and a shot at transgender people.

The Republican-dominated Tennessee Legislature approved the bill by wide margins on April 25 — the state Senate on a 25-4 vote and the state House of Representatives by 63-16.

Both sides are anticipating a higher-stakes forthcoming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether to hear an appeal of a law enacted in Tennessee in March 2023 banning gender transitioning of minors within the state. 

In September 2023, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a court challenge to the law, saying it’s not right for judges to allow laws in states that protect gender transitioning for minors to stand while overturning laws in states that ban it.

“Prohibiting citizens and legislatures from offering their perspectives on high-stakes medical policies in which compassion for the child points in both directions is not something life-tenured federal judges should do without a clear warrant in the Constitution,” the federal appeals court said.

The 6th Circuit appeals court decision also allowed a similar ban on gender transitioning for minors in Kentucky to stand. 

Twenty-five states have passed laws restricting or banning gender transitioning for minors, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which supports gender transitioning and tracks it.

Courts at various levels have blocked some of those state laws.

But on April 15 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Labrador v. Poe that Idaho can enforce its state statute banning gender transitioning for minors, overturning a broad restraining order issued in December 2023 by U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill, a Clinton appointee. 

The high court did not rule on the merits of gender-transitioning bans. Instead, it limited the use of what Justice Neil Gorsuch called “the universal injunction” that stymies enforcement of statutes during long appeals. Instead, the federal Supreme Court left the injunction intact only for the two plaintiffs challenging the Idaho statute.

Legislators who support the bill said the bill protects children.

“This is just to prevent bad actors from coming in and taking our children to go somewhere else without that child’s parent or guardian giving them permission to do that,” said Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville.

State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said he doesn’t consider the bill controversial.

“This bill is the same as any other medical procedure. I mean, as a parent I can’t fathom if someone else without me and my wife’s permission or even knowledge took one of our children to another state or even within this state for any kind of medical procedure. That’s just bizarre to me, that anybody would advocate for that. A parent should be intimately involved in their child’s medical decisions and care,” Lamberth said.

But Lamberth also made a substantive argument against gender transitioning, which opponents say does permanent harm by rendering the body sterile and doesn’t solve underlying emotional problems they say people who identify as transgender experience. 

“There is a growing body of medical research that supports the fact that surgical intervention in a child that is suffering from gender dysphoria is more damaging than helpful,” Lamberth said. “… I’m asking folks to, again, study the medical testimony that’s out there, look into this very carefully before you go through with something or anyone would go through with something that is irreversible.” 

In April, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document rejecting attempted sex changes, saying that identity comes from God, who gives human beings dignity, and that “the body participates in that dignity as it is endowed with personal meanings, particularly in its sexed condition.” 

“It follows that any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception,” states the document, Dignitas Infinita, which was approved by Pope Francis.