Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly passed, and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed into law, the most anti-LGBT legislation that exists in the United States today.
The bill, as written, prevents local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances. Specifically, and perhaps most notoriously, the bill took aim at a provision of a Charlotte, N.C. law that was set to take effect on April 1 that would have allowed those making gender transitions to use their preferred restrooms in public places.
The vote in the North Carolina House of Representatives was 82-26 after three hours of debate, with all Republicans voting for it and 11 Democrats breaking ranks with their party to support the bill. The North Carolina Senate voted 32-0 in favor of the bill after all 11 Democrats present walked out in protest, led by Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh, who called the session "an affront to democracy" and said his caucus wouldn't be part of "this hostile takeover of human rights."
"We are abandoning the fundamental value of limited government and shared government in this bill," Blue told me this week. "We can't claim to be constitutionalists while at the same time create unconstitutional discrimination — it's hypocritical. We are essentially rolling back the clock on 40-plus years of anti-discrimination activity and settled law."
North Carolina is a microcosm of, and perhaps a window into, the future effects of a Republican primary dialogue that is trafficking in fear and preying on the notion that Americans are unsafe. In the case of McCrory, a man who originally ran for governor as a moderate, the pressure to not only ride the coattails of his conservative legislature, but to champion a bill that seems antithetical to true conservative values, is overwhelming.
Not unlike many Southern states, North Carolina has become a fierce battleground for culture war issues. Since the Republicans captured the legislature in 2010 and the governorship in 2012, there's been an onslaught of conservative changes, from stricter voter laws to looser gun laws to overhauling taxes. In 2013, the legislature even introduced a resolution to declare Christianity its official state religion. So much for that "wall of separation between church and state" that Thomas Jefferson argued was so critical to a vibrant nation.
The latest push by Republican leaders in North Carolina to jam this unconscionable legislation down the throats of its citizens is the latest example of how Republicans have decided that culture-war issues, and sweeping legislation to advance their cultural positions, should take precedence over the traditional conservative advocacy for local governance. It also pits, perhaps shortsightedly, the GOP's asserted desire to improve the business climate in the state against social conservative objectives. The irony that a party that claims to be pro-business could be so out of touch with what 21st-century companies believe is amusing.
American Airlines, which employs 14,000 people in North Carolina, along with other companies with operations in the state, including Apple, Dow Chemical, Red Hat and Biogen, all issued statements decrying the new law. The NBA, in a statement, suggested it might reconsider plans to host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte. The NCAA also suggested the law might cause it to change plans to hold its annual college-basketball tournament and other events in the state.
While the new law also prohibits local governments from setting minimum wages above the state level and strips veterans of anti-discrimination protections, the most widely discussed aspect of the law is its impact on bathrooms — that single-sex bathrooms and changing facilities can be used only by individuals who have that sex on their birth certificates. Blue argues that the bathroom provision "is the farthest thing that this law does."
"At a fundamental level, this law takes away the right to sue private employers for violating protections guaranteed under state law; to sue for employment discrimination on the basis of race or gender," Blue said.
While the law may go beyond simply LGBT issues, the one indisputable fact relative to its passage is that a desperately antiquated GOP continues to take swipes at, and an antagonistic attitude toward, a historically marginalized group of people. An assault on the LGBT community is an assault on us all, and the freedom and rights we desperately fight to protect.
Spatola is a West Point graduate and former captain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as a college basketball analyst for ESPN and is a host on SiriusXM radio.