Montana Judge Rules Montana Law Unconstitutional

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Today, we’re diving into a major ruling from Montana that’s making waves across the country. A judge has ruled that a state law defining “sex” strictly as male or female is unconstitutional. Let’s unpack this development and understand its implications.

In 2023, Montana passed S.B. 458, a law that sought to provide a common definition for “sex” in state laws. The bill defined “male” as a human with XY chromosomes who produces or would produce sperm and “female” as a human with XX chromosomes who produces or would produce eggs. This law was intended to clarify the state’s stance on gender, but it has faced significant backlash.

District Court Judge Shane Vannatta struck down the law after a group of plaintiffs, including individuals who identify as transgender, nonbinary, and intersex, argued that it denied legal recognition and protection to gender-nonconforming people. According to The Associated Press, Vannatta’s ruling did not directly address the plaintiffs’ claims about legal recognition. Instead, he focused on a technicality: the bill’s title did not clearly indicate whether “sex” referred to gender or sexual intercourse and failed to define “male” and “female” within the body of the bill.

“The title does not give general notice of the character of the legislation in a way that guards against deceptive or misleading titles,” Vannatta wrote. This lack of clarity was a key factor in his decision to rule the law unconstitutional.

The law’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Carl Glimm, argued that the legislation was necessary after a 2022 state judge’s ruling allowed transgender individuals to change the gender markers on their birth certificates. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte supported the law, stating it codified a commonsense definition of sex. His spokesperson, Sean Southard, criticized the judge’s ruling, emphasizing the administration’s commitment to ensuring words have clear meanings.

Montana’s Attorney General’s Office, represented by spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell, pledged to continue defending the law, arguing it reflects scientific reality. On the other hand, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana celebrated the ruling. ACLU of Montana legal director Alex Rate called the decision a vindication of the safeguards in the Montana Constitution.

This ruling is significant not just for Montana but also for the national conversation around gender identity and legal definitions of sex. Similar laws have been passed in Kansas and Tennessee, reflecting a broader legislative trend. The debate is particularly heated in Montana, where a ban on gender transition treatment for minors was also approved during the same legislative session.

Additionally, the session saw transgender Democrat state Rep. Zooey Zephyr expelled from the House floor after protesting Republican lawmakers who had silenced her.