Breaking with Republican-led states and cities that have moved to restrict bathroom use, the California Assembly on Monday passed legislation requiring all single-stall bathrooms to be open to people of any gender.
As the plight of transgender people has opened a new front in civil rights fights, some elected officials have sought to require people to use bathrooms matching their sex assigned at birth. The U.S. Justice Department has said such a law in North Carolina violates the Civil Rights Act, prompting a lawsuit, and Houston voters defeated an ordinance barring discrimination against gays and transgender people after a campaign in which bathroom use featured heavily.
Things have gone differently in California. In 2013, legislators passed a law allowing students to use bathrooms or join teams corresponding to their gender identities. An effort to overturn that law failed.
Building on that, Assembly Bill 1732 would mandate that any single-occupancy restroom in any business, public place or government agency to be designated “all-gender.” Sponsored by Equality California and the California branch of the National Organization for Women, the measure drew no formal opposition from government or business groups. Its sole institutional critic was the California Right to Life Committee.
The measure passed on a 52-18 vote, with three Republicans voting in favor.
“While other states are making it tougher and more political to use a bathroom, today we can make it easier,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the bill’s author.
That rationale made little sense to Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, who said the bill would impose a disproportionate burden on businesses. He argued transgender people can already use the single-occupancy bathroom that makes them comfortable, and said he sometimes takes his young daughters into vacant women’s rooms.
“I’ll go in there and no one will care,” said Gallagher, arguing that “there’s virtually no one who’s inconvenienced by the status quo.”
Gallagher stirred disbelieving murmurs from colleagues when he warned the law would subject people identifying as women to the “pee seat” caused by men who had used the bathroom first.
“I don’t think because your aim is bad makes you in some kind of special category that you must have your own bathroom,” responded Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton.