Legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper hailed Thursday’s HB2 repeal bill as a compromise. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. It is a betrayal of the promises the governor made to the LGBT community and an entrenchment on discrimination by Republican legislators who have backed it all along.
House Bill 142 literally does not do one thing to protect the LGBT community and locks in HB2’s most basic and offensive provision. It repeals HB2 in name only and will not satisfy any business or organization that is truly intolerant of an anti-gay environment and of a state that codifies discrimination.
HB2’s most fundamental requirement was that local governments cannot pass anti-discrimination ordinances that govern public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels. Under Thursday’s agreement, that is still true, until at least December 2020.
This was the first real test of leadership for Gov. Cooper, a Democrat, and he failed spectacularly by inexplicably discarding his earlier promise not to accept any deal that left people vulnerable to discrimination. The new law ensures that all gay people – not just transgender people seeking to relieve themselves without being harassed – are susceptible to unequal treatment for at least the next 3 ½ years.
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HB2 was a Republican-written law, passed primarily by Republican supermajorities. It has been an embarrassment for North Carolina since the day it passed – so much so that even House and Senate Republican leaders eventually agreed it needed to be repealed. The onus was on them, not on Cooper and other Democrats, to make things right. Purely from a political strategy perspective, Democrats held the upper hand, not because they had the numbers but because they had public opinion on their side. Yet they caved anyway and essentially locked in HB2’s key requirements for years.
Which politicians win or lose is hardly even a secondary question, however. Even the economic impact and whether this new law will stem the flow of businesses, conventions, concerts and other events crossing North Carolina off the list is not its best measure. The measure is that under North Carolina law going forward, our fellow human beings will live in a society where they are not regarded as equals and where they can be legally denied service because of whom they love.
Just as Cooper turned his back on the LGBT community, so would the NCAA, ACC and NBA if they endorse it. When the NCAA pulled its events from the state, it specifically said it was doing so because state law invalidates any local ordinances that seek to prevent LGBT discrimination. That is still the case with the new law, so it is not clear how the NCAA would find it acceptable.
The legislation dodges the whole bathroom question. Charlotte’s ordinance allowed transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify. HB2 banned that. The new law does not specify what transgender people are to do.
We understand that (almost) everyone just wants HB2 to go away. We do too. But passing something just to put it behind you while leaving tens of thousands of citizens defenseless against discrimination is dishonorable, and should be a permanent part of the legacy of every public official who cast that vote.