PHOENIX - If you think you might need to use a public restroom while you're out and about, you might want to make sure you have your birth certificate handy.
A House panel will consider legislation today to make it a crime to enter a public restroom designated for one gender or the other if you are "not legally classified" on your birth certificate as a member of that sex. The measure, SB 1432, also would apply to showers, baths, dressing rooms or locker rooms marked "men" or "women."
The move comes a month after the Phoenix City Council voted 5-3 to extend its anti-discrimination laws to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Foes quickly dubbed it the "bathroom bill," saying the provisions about public accommodations could result in businesses being prosecuted for refusing to let transgender men use the women's restroom.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the state needs to step in. Otherwise, he said, any man who simply "thinks of himself" as a woman could be free to go into a women's locker room and disrobe.
"That's unacceptable behavior," he said.
Tucson has had an ordinance similar to the new Phoenix law since 1999, and Liana Perez, director of equal opportunity programs, said she has never seen anyone raise an issue or file a complaint about who gets to use which bathroom.
"It just doesn't come up," Perez said.
But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said state action is necessary.
"How far does the Phoenix City Council have to go in infringing upon people's fundamental rights to run their businesses as they see fit without succumbing to a small minority's wishes?" she said. "It puts at risk every business and church for frivolous lawsuits."
Kavanagh said which facility someone uses should be based on what has been the practice: what's on your birth certificate. But he insisted it will not be necessary for people to carry that document around any more than it's necessary right now for someone entering a men's room or women's room to produce documentation.
"But if you go into a public shower and you're a male and it's a female public shower, and the police are called, well, you'd better be able to prove that you're a female and not a male," Kavanagh said. "Otherwise you're going to go to jail, which is where you belong."
The Arizona Department of Health Services already has considered the question of gender, with state law setting up procedures for amending a birth certificate of someone born in this state.
In essence, it requires a letter from a doctor, dated and signed, that the person has had a sex-change operation.
But the law appears to have some wiggle room. It also says the change can be based on a "chromosomal count that establishes the sex of the person as different than in the registered birth certificate."
Getting a name change, though, requires going to court.
In a press release Tuesday, Equality Arizona called the measure "a disgusting invasion of privacy and civil liberties for all of us." They said it even could make criminals of women who, facing a long line at a restroom in a public facility, duck into the men's room.
Kavanagh dismissed that possibility.
"Police use discretion in unusual circumstances," he said. "But the problem is Phoenix has turned the law upside down."
The legislation has exemptions for those who enter a gender-specific restroom or other area as part of their job responsibilities and for those who enter to give aid or assistance to another person, such as the physically disabled.