Saturday 10 December 2016

North Carolina backtracks on controversial law limiting LGBT protection

Published 13/04/2016 | 10:11

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has moved over controversial law
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has moved over controversial law

North Carolina's governor has ordered anti-discrimination rules be expanded for state employees but stopped short of repealing the law.

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There has been widespread fallout since Governor Pat McCrory signed the law that limits LGBT protection three weeks ago, with corporate executives, gay-rights groups and political opponents blasting him.

Some companies have scaled back their planned job expansions, and Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in the state.

Saying he received lots of "feedback and suggestions and opinions", Governor McCrory also wants lawmakers to restore the ability of all workers to sue over employment bias in state court, which was removed in the law.

"This was my conclusion after hearing from many, many different sides of the issue," the governor told The Associated Press shortly after he signed an executive order on Tuesday addressing the law.

But Governor McCrory said he sees no need to repeal the rest of the law.

North Carolina's measure is among several advanced across the country that opponents say is discriminatory toward gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Governor McCrory's order expanded the equal employment policy for state employees to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and urged lawmakers to restore the right of all workers to sue in state court over employment discrimination on the basis of things like race, age and gender.

"I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality," Governor McCrory said in a video released with his announcement.

The order also affirmed parts of the law directing people at government buildings and schools to use the multi-stall bathrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

And the law still prevents local governments and the state from mandating businesses extend protections to LGBT people who work for them or when they visit their shops and restaurants.

Although some critics of the law called the order a positive first step, the most vocal opponents said nothing short of repeal will be enough.

"The governor's action is an insufficient response to a terrible, misguided law that continues to harm LGBT people on a daily basis," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.

"It's absurd that he'll protect people from being fired but will prohibit them from using the employee restroom consistent with their gender identity."

A Charlotte ordinance approved in February that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in public accommodations caused the Republican-controlled General Assembly to hold a special session March 23. Legislators overturned the ordinance and blocked all other cities and counties from passing similar rules targeting anti-LGBT discrimination.

There was no need for a state law "until the city of Charlotte brought it up," said Governor McCrory, himself the previous mayor of North Carolina's largest city.

"It wasn't a problem in my 14 years as mayor and I've never heard it as an issue during my three years as governor."

Still, current Mayor Jennifer Roberts tweeted she was pleased to see movement from Governor McCrory's office: "Historic to include LGBT protections for state employees. Look forward to more dialogue."

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat challenging Governor McCrory for governor this autumn, said Governor McCrory should have vetoed the law to begin with and the order does not change that last month's legislation "has written discrimination into the law".

Equality North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union and three LGBT citizens sued in federal court two weeks ago to overturn the entire law.

A full repeal appears highly unlikely from the General Assembly. In statements, Republican legislative leaders did not address Governor McCrory's request to restore the right to sue in state court for employment discrimination.

But they praised him for reaffirming bathroom provisions in the law they say keeps women and children safe from men who may have used ordinances similar to Charlotte's as a pretense to enter women's restrooms.

The order affirms the importance of the General Assembly's action "to protect North Carolina citizens from extremists' efforts to undermine civility and normalcy in our everyday lives," Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said.

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