I went to law school in North Carolina. My daughter went to college there, at a school that uses a lighter color blue than the one I went to. I have family members and dear friends who have lived in North Carolina for decades. I mention this because I love the state of North Carolina. Maybe just not some (many) of its legislators, or at least 82 of them. As I heard the author John Irving say just this past week: “if you must practice intolerance, be intolerant of intolerance.” Well put. Here’s the story.
On March 23, 2016, at a called special session of the legislature, H.B. 2 was passed 82-16, and immediately signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory. Under this law, local governments are prohibited from requiring private employers or contractors to meet wage or benefit requirements not mandated by the state. The law also bans municipalities from providing discrimination protections to classes of people not covered under state law.
The law came about after the City of Charlotte passed an ordinance that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of existing protected groups. The part of the ordinance that caused alarm was the one that permitted transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice.
North Carolina’s legislative leadership immediately convened a special session aimed at overturning the city’s new requirements. The old scare tactic of claiming that the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals is a reason to stop protection based on gender identity under anti-discrimination laws is beyond idiotic. It was tried (and failed) in Maryland. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/maryland-senate-passes-bill-banning-discrimination-against-transgender-people/2014/03/04/56fbb722-a3c8-11e3-84d4-e59b1709222c_story.html. It was used successfully in Houston last October, when voters there turned back an effort to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected status. See http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/how-bathroom-fears-conquered-transgender-rights-in-houston/414016/. Transgender individuals use bathrooms all the time without incident.
In North Carolina, supporters claim it was aimed at providing consistent requirements for businesses throughout the state. The reasoning is transparently false. If that’s really the case, the state should stop municipalities from enacting any ordinances and have everything decided by the state legislature – a “big government” idea usually rejected by conservatives. Indeed, the Governor said in his statement announcing he had signed the bill: “[t]he basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte.”
He continued that “[w]hile local municipalities have important priorities working to oversee police, fire, water and sewer, zoning, roads, and transit, the mayor and city council took action far out of its core responsibilities.” Right. Protecting individuals from fire – good. Protecting individuals from discrimination – bad. Put otherwise, local control is good unless we in power in the state don’t like what you’ve done. Particularly things that protect marginalized individuals.
The legislation took effect upon signing and supersedes any existing local ordinance, resolution, regulation or policy previously adopted. Jesse Helms must be smiling in the hereafter. Of course he’s the one who made sure that “sexual perversion” stuff such as “transvestitism” was specifically excluded from coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act. See 135 CONG. REC. S10,776 (Sept. 7, 1989). Several groups have stated an intention to file lawsuits over the legislation.