As North Carolina’s legislature resumes its session, weeks of impassioned debate over a controversial bill are likely to follow.
Already, tensions are running high in the Raleigh, N.C., statehouse. On Monday, police arrested 54 activists who refused to leave when it was time to close the building. The arrests occurred during a day of protesting for – and against – the House Bill 2, which stripped some protection for LBGT people in the state.
"It's a reason for hope. There's so many of us here," said Ken Jones of Swannanoa, N.C., who was one of the demonstrators arrested by police. "I'm pretty passionate about it."
Mr. Jones was among many protesters who refused to leave when the police attempted to close the building. He cited the great many people willing to risk arrest as a key motivator.
The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act is a multi-faceted bill, but it’s gained national notoriety for one provision that makes it illegal for a transgender man or woman to use the bathroom corresponding with their chosen gender. It also strips away other protections for the LBGT community, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
The law was passed during a special session in March and was seen as a victory for Christian conservatives in the state. But the bill has also brought criticism from the LBGT community, the Democrats in the state legislature, and many businesses.
Monday’s protests included a mix of citizens passionate about the bill.
Multiple waves of people, a dozen at a time, held a sit-in outside the offices of state legislative leaders, according to the Associated Press.
Shortly before the evening session began, more than a dozen activists rushed into House Speaker Tim Moore’s office and chanted in opposition to the bill. They were lead out in plastic handcuffs one at a time.
Each arrest was accompanied by support from other protestors shouting: “Thank you! We love you!”
On the other side of the bill and the political aisle, thousands of conservative Christians and supporters gathered to offer praise to the Republican politicians who passed the law and vowed to not repeal it.
"It took great courage for them to establish this bill," Doug Woods, 82, of Raleigh, a rally participant, told the Associated Press. "They need to stand firm."
The real political battle will take place in the legislature building, where North Carolina House Democrats have filed legislation to overturn the law and Republicans have vowed to resist repealing it.
Without the support of Republican sponsors, it appears unlikely that the House Democrats will be able to repeal the bill. Mr. Moore and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory told the Associated Press that it would not happen this session.
And according to Senate leader Phil Berger (R), the protesters aren’t likely to persuade anyone.
"I don't know that it'll change anybody's mind. I certainly would prefer that we not have this sort of protest. But you know, people have a right to express their opinion if they're upset about something we've done or disagree with something we've done," he said to the Associated Press. "And I think most people, when I talk to folks back home, they have a real hard time understanding why people can't be more civil."
This report includes material from The Associated Press.