CHARLOTTE — North Carolina’s Republican leaders and gay-rights supporters are daring each other to clean up the mess over the state’s law limiting LGBT protections against discrimination, which is crimping the state’s economy as sponsors of major sporting events pull out of the state.
Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP legislators have offered to consider rescinding the law, but only if the Democrats who lead Charlotte’s City Council act first and essentially admit they were wrong to pass a local ordinance that would have expanded protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts suggested Monday that this won’t be happening at their council meetings anytime soon, and said there’s nothing stopping lawmakers in Raleigh from repealing the state law known as House Bill 2.
“We urge the state to take action as soon as possible and encourage continued dialogue with the broader community,” Roberts said in a statement, for which she received repeated cheers and ovations at a city council zoning meeting Monday evening.
With only seven weeks until Election Day, social conservatives and liberals may be too entrenched in their positions for either side to make the first move. But until they resolve it, North Carolina’s residents and businesses could lose jobs and revenue should more companies and entertainment events leave.
The law Republicans passed during a one-day special session in March kept Charlotte from expanding protections against sexual discrimination in public accommodations, including not only gays and lesbians but also transgender people who are barred from restrooms aligned with their gender identity.
The state law also prevented other local governments from passing similar anti-discrimination rules and ordered public schools and universities to ensure that students use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
The national fallout intensified last week when the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference removed several championships from North Carolina. McCrory and the lawmakers then re-floated a double-repeal proposal, but with a catch: They would call a special session to consider rescinding House Bill 2 only if Charlotte first repeals its entire ordinance.
“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass H.B. 2 in response,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in a release.
They argue that North Carolina’s largest city overstepped its legal authority by passing such an ordinance.
But Roberts and other Democrats on the Charlotte council aligned with the Human Rights Campaign and other groups that express a deep mistrust of the Republicans, believe they’re on the right side of history by refusing to abandon efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
Roberts told the audience at the council meeting, some of whom brought signs calling for HB 2’s repeal, that the city’s ordinance was not on the night’s agenda, and they would not be able to speak on it.
The city council’s next regular public meeting is Monday.
McCrory and the legislature can act without Charlotte making a move, but giving in on the stand they’ve held since March could cost them support among social conservatives that McCrory and other GOP politicians desperately need now that mail-in absentee voting has begun.
“One would think that, finally, 180 days later, the architects of this disaster, McCrory, Moore and Berger, would step up, admit their mistake and provide the leadership necessary to repeal H.B. 2,” state Rep. Chris Sgro, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker and leader of Equality North Carolina, said Monday in Charlotte. “Instead, McCrory, Berger and Moore aren’t seeing 180 days of loss. They are seeing 50 days until an election.”
Moore countered late Monday that it’s Roberts and her allies — including Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is challenging McCrory for governor and opposes H.B. 2 — who aren’t trying to “reset” the debate.
“The Democrats want this as nothing more than a political issue and they could care less what it does to businesses in the state and anyone else,” Moore told reporters.
Berger, meanwhile, tried to offer an alternative: if council members don’t trust lawmakers to keep their end of the deal, they could make their repeal of the ordinance contingent on the legislature repealing the law.
Cooper said Monday that McCrory should call another special session and repeal it because “the damage to our economy must be stopped.” McCrory has been the law’s most high-profile defender, citing bathroom privacy concerns.
Voter sentiment appears to weigh against the Republicans.
A new Elon University poll released Monday found nearly 50 percent of the state’s likely voters this fall oppose HB 2, while almost 40 percent support it. Meanwhile, 60 percent say it has hurt the state, compared to only 11 percent who say it has improved North Carolina. The survey of 644 likely voters last week had a margin of sampling error of 3.9 percentage points.