Before an audience of LGBTQ activists, Democratic Sen. Joel Ford Monday night defended his 2015 vote for a bill that gave magistrates the right to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages.
“In my mind that was striking a balance,” Ford told a forum organized by MeckPac and other groups.
The forum, which drew four of the five Democratic candidates for mayor, was part of Charlotte’s annual Pride Week.
The forum was the first time the candidates addressed the groups since the 2016 passage of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance and the General Assembly’s response to it, which came in the form of House Bill 2, or the “bathroom bill.”
The law required transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender of their birth certificate and sparked a national backlash.
“It’s been an interesting couple years in Charlotte, to say the least,” moderator Matt Comer told the candidates.
Ford defended his earlier vote for the magistrates bill but called it a “learning experience.” After Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, he voted to uphold the veto. He said when he found out it was “hurtful” to the LGBT community, he reversed his original vote.
The anti-discrimination ordinance and HB2 underscored the divide between the Democratic-led city and the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Mayor Jennifer Roberts was asked how she would move the city forward given her “tenuous relationship” with GOP leaders.
She said there are areas in which the city is working with the state as well as with non-profits and the public sector to advance the principle of inclusivity. The city, she said, is looking at its contracting and appointments to boards and commissions.
Mayor Pro Tem Vi Liles said she would improve cooperation with the General Assembly by working more closely with surrounding counties.
“The first thing I would do is start talking about regional collaboration,” she said.
Ford said the city had “a broken relationship” with the legislature.
“The next leader is going to have to figure out how to restore the relationship,” he said.
Democrat Lucille Puckett also appeared at the forum.