By Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – Utah Governor Spencer Cox on Tuesday vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in schools, calling it a flawed measure with serious legal and financial risks.
The veto came a day after another Republican governor, Eric Holcomb of Indiana, halted a similar bill passed by that state’s legislature.
The two governors’ actions are at odds with steps taken in a number of other Republican-led states where transgender rights have become a lightning rod in a broader U.S. culture war over sexuality and gender identity.
Governors in states including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Iowa have signed into law bills that ban trans girls from competing in girls’ sports.
In a letter explaining his veto, Cox said the Utah measure would invite lawsuits that would “likely bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association and result in millions of dollars in legal fees for local school districts.”
He said he favored a measure that would protect “the integrity of women’s sports” while also allowing some participation by transgender youth, noting the state currently has only four transgender students playing high school sports.
“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” Cox wrote
“I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” he added, citing the high rates of trans youth reporting suicidality.
Holcomb in Indiana also cited likely court challenges as a reason for his veto.
Republican lawmakers in both states on Tuesday said they would try to override the governors’ vetoes. Leaders of the Utah Legislature said they would convene on Friday for a veto override session.
“We have been listening to our constituents, talking with experts and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport,” Utah state Senate President J. Stuart Adams said in a statement.
The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, praised Cox for rejecting what it called “discriminatory legislation.”
“He’s shown that he sees the humanity of the transgender youth targeted by this legislation – something governors in states like South Dakota and Iowa have refused to do,” Cathryn Oakley, the group’s state legislative director and senior counsel, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)