The anti-gay and anti-transgender rights bill passed and signed in North Carolina is an abomination, but the reaction to it and to a similarly discriminatory bill in Georgia reveal how much progress has been made.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, calling the state's new law a "national embarrassment," said Tuesday that he won't defend it in court against a federal challenge from gay rights activists. The law, hastily passed by the Legislature and signed by Republican Governor Pat McGrory, is indeed indefensible on moral, ethical and Constitutional grounds.
The law was triggered by passage in February of an antidiscrimination ordinance that officials in Charlotte had carefully crafted for a year. The state law undoes the Charlotte ordinance, which allowed transgender people to use public restrooms that match their gender, by mandating that they use bathrooms that match their birth certificates. It then piles on by banning local measures to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and blocking workers from suing in state courts over workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation or handicap.
These so-called "bathroom bills" have been debated in a variety of states, including Massachusetts, even though advocates have failed to provide a single example of an issue over a transgender person's use of a bathroom. It's a non-issue fueled by paranoia and ignorance. North Carolina's passage of the first such law has drawn criticism from PayPal, American Airlines and other companies that are based in or do business with the state. The NFL, NFL and NBA, which all have professional teams in the state, should use their considerable clout in opposing the law.
Economic considerations may have played a role in the decision of Republican Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia to veto a bill that would exempt faith-based groups from laws protecting the civil rights of gays if they believe their religious beliefs were violated. The law would be a license to discriminate under the cloak of religious liberty. Georgia-based Coca Cola protested the law, the NFL warned the bill could cost Atlanta a Super Bowl, and the Disney Company and Marvel Studios said they would take their considerable business elsewhere if the law was signed.
Or Governor Deal may have been motivated by logic and fairness. "If indeed our religious liberty is conferred upon us by God, and not by manmade government, perhaps we should heed the hands-off admonition of the First Amendment to the Us Constitution," he said in explaining his veto promise. Those are wise words, as were the sharp words of Attorney General Cooper, a Democrat who hopes to supplant Governor McGrory as the state's chief executive in November. The cynical efforts of dead-enders aside, the era in which governments could legislate or protect discrimination is ending.