North Carolina Democrats walk out of special session revoking LGBT law

The North Carolina legislature passed a law to rein in a city's anti-discrimination ordinances and restrict restroom use to biological gender, another move in a contentious national debate between LGBT advocates and religious conservatives.

Gerry Broome/AP
Rep. Julia Craven Howard (R), foreground, and other North Carolina lawmakers gather for a special session Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C. The lawmakers returned to work to pass an anti-discrimination bill that includes a measure that prohibits cities and counties from requiring businesses to pay more than the state's minimum wage.

North Carolina’s legislature held a tense debate Wednesday night and passed a law that requires people to use the restroom aligned with their biological sex.

The state’s General Assembly called a special session to pass the bill, which Gov. Pat McRory (R) quickly signed, a dramatic move inside a contentious national debate that has caused religious conservatives and LGBT rights advocates alike to fear for their rights.  

The state law targets a bill from the city of Charlotte, set to take effect April 1, that featured broad anti-discrimination legislation. State legislators took specific aim at a provision of that law that would have allowed those making gender transitions to use their preferred restroom in public places.

“The 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,” the governor said in a statement.

The debate took a tense three hours, and the Senate’s Democratic contingency walked out in protest, although all Republicans and 12 House Democrats voted for the measure.

"We choose not to participate in this farce," Sen. Daniel Blue (D), the Senate minority leader, told The Associated Press.

Republicans stressed the importance of safety and privacy for women in restroom facilities, worrying that some men might use the Charlotte law to harass women.

"It's common sense — biological men should not be in women's showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms," Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe (R) said on the floor, according to the AP.

Advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights said the state law uses fear tactics to mischaracterize their community and fails to protect transgender people from discrimination.

“[The General Assembly] has passed a bill that is worse than what we have seen in Indiana and Georgia and other states,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts (D) said in a statement. “This legislation is literally the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”

Such debates are occurring in city and state legislatures around the country, including similar legislation that Houston defeated by referendum in November, as The Christian Science Monitor's Harry Bruinius reported.

“If there’s a lesson from Houston, it’s that we will not have progress on gay rights if it is set up as just religious communities being in tension with gay and transgender people,” Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois who studies the legal issues surrounding religious liberty and same-sex marriage, told the Monitor. “When that happens, when it goes down that way, I think it’s going to be really hard to have progress on things we can actually have progress on, constructively.”

Advocates for LGBT rights and civil liberties have planned a protest rally Thursday evening and other possible actions to try and repeal the law. As those for and against such measures weigh their options, the actions of legislatures elsewhere in the country point to possible alternatives.

William Eskridge, a professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn., who has supported same-sex marriage for 25 years, pointed to a compromise in the Utah Legislature. LGBT advocates and leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked together to design specific legislation protecting LGBT rights and religious objectors alike.

“I think there would be a lot fewer clashes if there were more Utahs out there, where people just got down and worked things out, and came to mutual accommodations,” Dr. Eskridge told the Monitor.

This report contains material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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