Despite a majority of Americans expressing support for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, a number of state legislators continue to introduce bills that aim to erode LGBT rights. Within the past few months, lawmakers in Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi passed legislation that opened the door for LGBT discrimination. The governors of Mississippi and North Carolina signed such bills, but Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia ultimately vetoed the legislation passed in his state after the NFL threatened to not consider Atlanta for future Super Bowls and Hollywood producers said that they would pull movie production from the state.
The Bite Behind the Legislation
The recent slew of anti-LGBT legislation allows for broad, open discrimination against LGBT individuals. Georgia’s House Bill 757 would have prevented the government from punishing organizations or people that deny certain services to LGBT individuals, such as issuing marriage licenses or performing same-sex marriage ceremonies in the name of religious freedom. Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 also protects individuals who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples or provide medical counsel. Additionally, the legislation allows individuals to discriminate against LGBT individuals in housing, employment, and other sectors. This is all once again in the guise of religious freedom. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said he signed the bill, “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government.”
North Carolina’s House Bill 2, signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, made all existing ordinances protecting LGBT North Carolinians from discrimination in employment, housing, and other realms are now null and void and communities cannot pass similar measures in the future. In addition, transgender individuals who have not taken the surgical and legal steps to change the gender marked on their birth certificates cannot use the bathroom associated with their current gender identity. The legislation was a response to Charlotte’s recent anti-discrimination ordinance that allowed transgender citizens to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with and prohibited employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination targeted at LGBT individuals.
States, businesses, and individuals have expressed their disdain for the anti-LGBT laws signed in Mississippi and North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert in Greensboro, North Carolina in protest of HB 2 to show his solidarity with LGBT North Carolinians. PayPal withdrew its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte. The center would have employed nearly 400 people. Google Ventures’ chief executive pledged to not make any new investments in the state until the law was repealed along with Apple, Facebook, and Bank of America. The governors of Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington banned all non-essential state travel to North Carolina. Tyson Foods, MGM Resorts International, Nissan and Toyota, some of Mississippi’s largest employers, also expressed their objection to the anti-LGBT legislation passed in that state.
Following scathing criticism from citizens, business officials, and elected officials, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed an executive order that maintains the controversial gender-specific bathroom and locker guidelines in government facilities, affirms the ability of the private sector to establish bathroom and locker gender guidelines, and allows private sector and local government employers to establish their own employment non-discrimination policies. The order expands state employment policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity and calls for legislation to reinstate the right of individuals to sue in state court for discrimination.
Governor Pat McCrory’s Response
Despite nationwide criticism, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has largely defended House Bill 2. On Meet the Press, the governor said that the legislation was a response to government overreach, saying that there was not enough meaningful dialogue before Charlotte enacted their non-discrimination ordinance. The governor said that the provision requiring private businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with was too expansive and was an invasion of privacy. McCrory went on to say that LGBT discrimination does not exist in North Carolina.
In an attempt to quell public anger, Governor McCrory issued Executive Order 93 last month, which expands the state’s employment policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees and seeks legislation to reenact the right to sue in state courts for discrimination. However, the order maintains gender-specific restroom and locker room facilities in government facilities and affirms that the private sector can create their own restroom and locker room policies, upholding the controversial measure that prohibits transgender citizens from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
Will House Bill 2 Cost Governor McCrory Reelection?
Although Election Day is still six months away, House Bill 2 may have already harmed Governor McCrory’s reelection campaign. Since the passage of the legislation, McCrory’s standing in the polls against Democratic opponent Roy Cooper has slipped. Previous polls had McCrory either slightly ahead or tied with Cooper, but several recent polls put Cooper several percentage points above the governor. This corresponds with a poll that showed that only 36% of North Carolina voters support the controversial anti-LGBT legislation. While it is too early to draw conclusions, House Bill 2 may jeopardize Pat McCrory’s political career.
Advocacy and Action: Next Steps
Action must be taken to repeal, or at the very least, weaken the legislation passed in Mississippi and North Carolina and prevent the passage of similar bills in other states. As seen in Georgia, money talks. Business leaders must continue to either pull operations out of states that discriminate against LGBT citizens or stop future investments and projects. When Indiana’s governor signed a religious freedom bill similar to Georgia’s last year, the NCAA threatened to relocate the men’s Final Four tournament from Indianapolis. This threat, along with the withdrawal of a dozen conferences, cost the state $60 million. These threats and losses caused the governor to weaken the law he initially signed.
Following the passage of North Carolina’s law, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state. Individuals and organizations must continue to fight these laws in court in order to prevent the future implementation of such legislation in other states.
Lastly, more LGBT officials must be elected to office at the local, state, and national levels, with a particular focus on electing leaders in historically anti-LGBT states. Having LGBT voices at all legislative levels will strengthen the voices of LGBT citizens across the nation. These leaders could play an integral role in killing hateful bills before they ever reach legislative floors for debate.
The recent laws in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia show that the fight for LGBT rights has not ended. While the legalization of same-sex marriage was indeed a milestone, the fight is just beginning in other realms like employment, housing, and public accommodations. It is crucial that legislation targeting LGBT individuals does not make it to the desks of elected officials in order to ensure equal protection of all Americans.