Gov. Pat McCrory defended North Carolina’s law on LGBT rights Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” but said the issue warrants further discussion and not overheated rhetoric.
The new law establishes a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excludes gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes and forbids cities and counties from adopting their own policies. The governor said it wasn’t the state’s role to impose policies on the private sector.
But McCrory acknowledged that the issue of bathroom use by transgender people – which was the basis of the current controversy, following Charlotte’s attempt to allow choice according to gender identity, rather than physical sex at birth – needed to be addressed.
“We have to have more dialogue, not threats,” McCrory said.
Host Chuck Todd challenged McCrory on that point, noting that the General Assembly rushed a bill through in a single day in a hastily called special session and that the governor signed it into law that same night. “You guys debated for, like, 10 seconds,” Todd said.
McCrory said the speed was necessary to stop the Charlotte ordinance from going into effect on April 1.
“This is a national debate that has literally come on in the last three months,” McCrory said. “No one talked about it until Houston,” where voters rejected an ordinance expanding gay and transgender protections.
Todd said some of the same arguments on House Bill 2 were made by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in opposition to racial civil rights. “The same argument was used to defeat laws that are now considered untouchable,” Todd said.
McCrory said he didn’t know of any businesses in North Carolina that had discriminatory practices, and repeated, “This extremely new social norm came in a very quick time, and we need to have these discussions.”
Yet he only said the provision in HB2 that eliminated the ability to file employment discrimination lawsuits in state court should be repealed, not the bathroom provision.
Todd said NBC had estimated that North Carolina has lost $39.7 million to $186 million because of the law, and that others had estimated the loss in billions of dollars, due to companies and events not coming to the state in protest.
McCrory also said the national news media incorrectly have compared the law to religious freedom bills in Georgia and Mississippi, noting that last year he vetoed a bill that would have allowed magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages.
“We haven’t had a religious freedom bill, because I’m governor,” he said.
McCrory said there is a disconnect between national corporations and everyday people.
“You know, I was in Hamlet, North Carolina, a small town that can be any town in the United States of America,” he said. “I walked into a buffet restaurant, African-American buffet restaurant, and the people just welcomed me with open arms and said, ‘Thanks for protecting us.’ I got back in my car, and I got a call from someone in corporate America going, ‘Man, you’ve got to change this. We’re getting killed.’”
Earlier in the program actor George Clooney called North Carolina’s law “ridiculous.” McCrory said Hollywood didn’t have a place in a serious discussion about the issue, and said the new Batman movie was being shown in China, which has a terrible human rights record.
McCrory’s appearance on national TV comes despite his lack of appearances in North Carolina. He has held only one brief news conference and one TV interview on the topic since signing the bill.
Soon after the TV show, McCrory’s campaign committee emailed a plea for contributions, saying the governor had just left the set, where he “defended North Carolina against the coordinated campaign of attacks and selective outrage from out-of-state special interests, the corporate elite and the national media.”
The campaign of attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running against McCrory for governor, sent out a response to the TV appearance: “Today Governor McCrory doubled down on his belief that businesses should be able to fire an employee for being gay,” spokesman Jamal Little said. “It’s that antiquated, discriminatory attitude that is driving businesses away and hurting our reputation.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the national organization fighting to overturn HB2, issued his own reaction in an email:
“Today, a nation watched as Gov. McCrory invoked an outdated and retrograde argument to defend his decision to write discrimination into state law and deny equal treatment under the law for LGBT people. Pat McCrory can’t have it both ways and say he doesn’t want the government to tell the private sector what to do while he also sticks his head in the sand and ignores more than 160 businesses who have clearly said they want HB2 repealed.”
During “Meet the Press,” McCroy cited the Human Rights Campaign as an impediment to constructive conversation, calling them “more powerful than the NRA.”
“But they are putting on a lot of pressure, instead of having good dialogue,” he said.
An earlier version of this post inadvertently said McCrory called the new law government overreach. He was referring to the Charlotte ordinance.