By David Roach
RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) — North Carolina legislators have repealed a controversial law that required individuals in state buildings to use restrooms corresponding to the gender indicated on their birth certificates.
The repeal of House Bill 2 today (March 30) marked a compromise between Democrats and Republicans and culminated more than a year of contentious debate since the bill’s passage in April 2016.
North Carolina’s senate passed the repeal 32-16 following brief discussion. The house’s 70-48 vote to repeal HB 2 followed more than two hours of debate and came some 90 minutes after a noon deadline set by the NCAA for the Tar Heel State to overturn its restroom bill or lose the opportunity to host championship events in 2018-22.
The NCAA previously pulled seven championship events that were set to occur in North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year, including first- and second-round games in the Division I men’s basketball tournament.
The repeal drew criticism both from social conservatives, who argued it endangered citizens’ privacy and safety, and from advocates of so-called homosexual and transgender rights, who argued it did not go far enough in defending civil rights.
Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told Baptist Press the state “has had a great opportunity to lead the country in the preservation of the definition of gender. [Lawmakers] are now forfeiting that opportunity. I think this is a loss for the state of North Carolina and ultimately a loss for the country.”
HB 2 was “the best privacy and safety bathroom law in the country,” Creech said. “It’s been a model for the whole country,” with similar legislation introduced in 17 other states.
The repeal bill, HB 142, contained three main provisions:
— A full repeal of HB 2;
— A ban until 2020 on acts by state government — including universities and local boards of education — to regulate “access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities, except in accordance with an act of the” state legislature;
— A moratorium until 2020 on ordinances by local governments to regulate “private employment practices” or “public accommodations.” Those responsibilities are left to state government.
In debating HB 142, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican, said, “Compromise sometimes is difficult, and this bill represents a compromise. I don’t know that there are that many people that are extremely happy about exactly where we are … However this is what I believe, and what I hope you believe, is good for North Carolina at this time.”
Gov. Roy Cooper — a Democrat who made HB 2 opposition a major feature of his campaign last year — said in a statement on the eve of the vote, “I support the House Bill 2 repeal compromise that will be introduced tomorrow. It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”
Cooper had argued previously that HB 2 was discriminatory and bad for North Carolina economically. The Associated Press estimated in a March 27 analysis that HB 2 would cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost revenue over a dozen years from companies withdrawing business in protest.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a statement, “These chambers were filled today with men and women who have been under a full-court press by the NCAA and the business community for months, and today, the leaders of our state have let the people of North Carolina down. The truth remains, no basketball game, corporation or entertainment event is worth even one little girl losing her privacy and dignity to a boy in the locker room, or being harmed or frightened in a bathroom.”
Fitzgerald, a trustee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed gratefulness “for the lawmakers who remained steadfast to these principals and the thousands of coalition members that today urged them to vote against the repeal.”
“Today’s repeal vote,” she noted, “maintains separate facilities for men and women and leaves regulation of multi-occupancy facilities to the state; however, it leaves the state without a statewide public policy on privacy and safety in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers and simply kicks this debate three years down the road.”
Pro-homosexual and transgender rights advocates argued the replacement bill did not go far enough.
Cathryn Oakley of the Human Rights Campaign told The New York Times HB 142 leaves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community “boxed out of nondiscrimination protections.” Chris Sgro of Equality North Carolina told The Times the repeal “keeps North Carolina as the only state in the country obsessed with where trans people use the restroom through law.”
At least two previous attempts to repeal HB 2 failed, one in December and another earlier this month.