After LGBT Protections Pass, North Carolina Speaker Vows to 'Correct This Radical Course'

by | February 24, 2016

By Jim Morrill

After Charlotte's City Council voted to expand its protection of gay and transgender people Monday night, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday that lawmakers will take steps "to correct this radical course."

Starting in April, the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance will extend legal protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals _ the first such ordinance in the state.

The most controversial part of the ordinance would allow transgender people to use either a men's or women's bathroom, depending on the gender with which they identify.

The state's leading Republicans have not discussed the issue in detail publicly, though there are indications that legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory might allow much of the ordinance to stand and only target the bathroom provision.

The House majority leader, Republican Mike Hager, said in a news release that the General Assembly would act, but only to "eliminate this provision in the ordinance."

"Restrooms and locker rooms," he said, "should remain distinctly private."

Moore spokesperson Mollie Young said the House speaker's "focus is on the bathroom piece."

"That's the part that's been alarming to people in Raleigh," she said.

In an email to Republican City Council members Sunday, McCrory singled out the bathroom provision as the most problematic part of the ordinance.

North Carolina is not a "home rule" state, which means cities and towns are creations of the legislature. The General Assembly has the power to nullify all or parts of the ordinance if it chooses.

The city's existing nondiscrimination ordinance covers race, age, gender and religion, among other characteristics. It covers places of public accommodation, such as stores, restaurants and hotels, as well as taxi cabs and limousines.

When the ordinance goes into effect, a baker would no longer be able to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Other vendors would have to cater LGBT events, even if it was against their religious beliefs.

The city couldn't revoke a business license if someone violated the ordinance. But the city could seek an injunction that would force a business to comply.

If only the bathroom provision were removed, the other protections would stay, including those for transgender individuals.

But there is a strong belief in the LGBT community that it's important for transgender individuals to be able to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

A year ago, council members voted to remove the bathroom provision from the ordinance. But two council members, John Autry and LaWana Mayfield, voted against the ordinance out of principle. They said they wouldn't leave some members of the LGBT community behind.

An effort to repeal all of the LGBT protections could provoke a backlash, similar to the controversy last year from Indiana's proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Business leaders criticized that measure as a way to allow discrimination against gays. The Indiana legislature later modified the bill.

A similar religious freedom bill died in the North Carolina legislature last year.

House member Dan Bishop, a Republican, co-sponsored the N.C. religious freedom bill last year. He said the council's vote Monday was "intentionally provocative."

He said it's too early to know how the General Assembly will proceed.

Scott Bishop of MeckPAC, an LGBT lobbying organization, said he wants to meet with local legislators to persuade them not to nullify any part of the ordinance.

"We want to make sure we have conversations at least with the local delegation so that they are up to speed on the issue," Scott Bishop said. "It's a matter of making sure they are as educated as the City Council."

The General Assembly could also pass legislation to put the issue on a citywide ballot. That happened in Houston, after its elected officials passed LGBT protections. The entire ordinance was defeated, with 61 percent of the city voting no.

Charlotte City Council members approved the full ordinance in a 7-4 vote.

Republican council member Ed Driggs, who voted against the expanded ordinance, said Tuesday a referendum might not be the best solution. He said people have long-standing cultural norms that men and women should use different bathrooms, and those beliefs need to be protected.

A citywide vote might not protect those beliefs, he said.

At Monday's meeting, Driggs said he believes the LGBT community shouldn't face discrimination, but that he couldn't vote for the ordinance because of the bathroom flexibility.

A year ago, however, Driggs voted against a version of the ordinance that had the bathroom provision removed.

Driggs said Tuesday he thought the ordinance still needed more input from the community, and needed to ensure that people's religious beliefs wouldn't be violated.

(c)2016 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)