I was a little taken aback a few days ago on reading of praise for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “conservative” approach in vetoing a bill that would have banned transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams.
He said he was taking the action because, “[T]he presumption of the policy … is that there is an existing problem … that requires further state government intervention,” a presumption he disagrees with.
Legislatures should be careful not to legislate just because they can. They should determine, first, that a situation requires some action and, second, that their involvement is appropriate. That is indeed the conservative approach to governance, if the facts warrant it.
But do they in this case?
Government top to bottom is already heavily involved in the issue, from Washington’s linking of transgender athlete rights and federal funding, to local elected school boards’ implementation of transgender policies. Can the state alone just sit on the sidelines and observe?
And it may be true that there is no existing problem over the issue in the state, but it would be foolish to suppose there won’t be. Transgender athletes are overwhelming girls teams in several states, and trans participation in the Olympics is an ongoing controversy around the world.
Furthermore, greater urgency will soon attach to the topic. The International Olympic Committee, which sets the standards used by most organizations down the line, including the NCAA and, therefore, high school governing bodies, started out requiring sex reassignment surgery as a standard. It now uses hormone levels. But the clamor today is to consider how an athlete “self identifies” as the sole criterion.
So, in the current environment, is a legislature’s appropriate response to just let events unfold or to try to influence them?
There is another element to conservatism not considered by the Holcomb cheering section.
A principal tenet of the movement, going all the way back to the seminal writings of Edmund Burke, is that we should not recklessly abandon fundamental values and traditional institutions. The goal is neither to blindly support the status quo nor to reflexively oppose all change, but rather to ensure that, in our headlong rush to the future, we keep the foundations necessary to support civilization.
Is there anything more fundamental to our understanding of humanity than our essential sexuality? Men and women, that is the pith — XX and XY, there are no other choices. Does the governor believe that? Or is he being bullied by the shouting from those in the soft sciences of psychology and sociology as they try to overwhelm the hard science of biology?
With a notable exception or two, conservatives have decided to ignore the culture wars for at least a couple of generations, to their detriment. They constantly have to fight from defense instead of offense. Attacks on tradition that could have been argued against from the beginning as fringe radicalism were allowed to grow and multiply into mainstream tolerance.
The question of transgender athletes participating in competitive sports is just a small part in the overall effort to turn everything we know about humanity upside down. Until just a few years ago, we argued about the different roles and expectations and experiences of men and women. But with blinding speed, we have moved to a place where we must now defend our belief that there even is such a division.
If this were just about those who truly struggle with their sexual identities, this would not be a particular concern for society or its elected officials. Only about 0.6 percent of the population identify as transgender, and they deserve the same right as anyone else to find their own way without fear that any of us are threatened by it. But they have been drafted as the latest victim group with which to attack the evil, oppressive majority, so that is a battle that affects everyone.
There have been lively discussions inside and outside conservative circles about what that philosophy actually entails. It has never meant, and should never mean, “Let’s sit this one out.”
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected] Send comments to [email protected]