Despite federal lawsuit threat, N.C. governor digs in heels on LGBT law

The US Justice Department threatened to sue the state of North Carolina over its transgender 'bathroom bill.' So far, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has stood by the legislation.

Gerry Broome/AP
Protesters gather outside the the North Carolina Museum of History as Gov. Pat McCrory make remarks about House Bill 2 during a government affairs conference in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday. A North Carolina law limiting protections to LGBT people violates federal civil rights laws and can't be enforced, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.

A letter from the US Justice Department condemning North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” highlights a deeply partisan divide that could also threaten to split the Republican Party.

The Justice Department wrote that the state’s law requiring those identifying as transgender to use the bathroom appropriate to their gender at birth violated federal civil rights laws, threatening to sue the state and pull funding from its 17 universities.  

"The State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees and both you, in your official capacity, and the state are engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance,” wrote Justice Department Civil Rights Division leader Vanita Gupta in the letter.

In recent years, Obama administration has taken several steps toward broadening the rights and acceptance of transgender individuals. In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order extending discriminatory protections for all federal employees to include gay and transgender individuals. And the Department of Education and the Justice Department have formally supported a transgender teenager in a legal battle over the right to use the boys' restroom at his school in Virginia.

For North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the law in question is a matter of "common sense" and protection of privacy.

"This is no longer just a North Carolina issue, because this conclusion by the Department of Justice impacts every state," Gov. McCrory told the state's chamber of commerce. "I thought it was a very common-sense rule, but the federal government is now saying those are discriminatory practices."

House Speaker Tim Moore (R), who helped pass the law, said the letter is evidence Obama is using his final months in office to push a "radical left agenda." Several of Mr. Obama's instructions to the Justice Department have leaned partisan, including instructions not to prosecute states for legalizing marijuana and defend federal statutes barring same-sex marriage in court.

"Basic concepts – common sense about privacy and expectations of privacy – are getting thrown out the window by what the Obama administration is trying to do in this," Rep. Moore told reporters.

As North Carolina stands firm while gay rights advocates and some pop stars and businesses have threatened boycotts of the state, the issue has shown a split even within the Republican Party. Several other states have considered similar statutes in recent months, as states debate whether loyalty to religious conservatives – especially in the Bible Belt – trumps economic concerns, as The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson explored last month:

For many socially conservative Americans, it's a little like David vs. Goliath, pitting the giants of commerce against the will of the regular people – or at least their representatives.... The new law stands as a major victory for Evangelicals and social conservatives in the wake of the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage last summer. It shows how, in the words of Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project, matters of faith can thwart 'corporate bullies' demanding that Christians set aside fundamental values in the name of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

It's about the politics of perception, but the political conflict can be solved, says Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, if economic and religious conservatives clarify their goals and listen to each other.

"The faith community needs to be clearer about what its objectives are, and some in the business community need to stop mischaracterizing what the legislation actually does," he told The Washington Post.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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