O-Pinion

Bishop: Charlotte putting its protection of women, minorities at risk

dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Well, here’s a new wrinkle in the debate over Charlotte’s proposed LGBT non-discrimination ordinance.

N.C. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Mecklenburg Republican, argues that not only does the city lack the authority to protect transgender citizens from discrimination, it also lacks the power to protect citizens from discrimination based on race, gender, religion and other characteristics.

Of course, there has been an ordinance on the books for 48 years that does precisely that.

In a letter to Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the City Council today, Bishop warns the city that it would be wading into deep quicksand if it passes the expanded LGBT non-discrimination ordinance it is mulling.

He argues that N.C. cities have only the power delegated to them by the state, and that the state hasn’t given them the power to protect transgender residents. In fact, Bishop says, if the city passes the ordinance, it risks jeopardizing its ordinance passed in 1968 that covers residents based on race and other long-protected classes.

That’s meant to give City Council members pause, but it could backfire on Bishop if the city calls his bluff. Does Bishop want to lead the charge in stripping protections for racial minorities, women and others?

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann agrees with Bishop on two things: The city only has the power given it by the state; and if the city doesn’t have the authority to pass the LGBT ordinance, it didn’t have the power to pass the race-based ordinance either.

But Hagemann believes both ordinances are legally sound, and that the state has granted cities the necessary authority through two statutes.

General Statute 160A-174(a) says: “A city may by ordinance define, prohibit, regulate or abate acts, omissions, or conditions, detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of its citizens and the peace and dignity of the city, and may define and abate nuisances.” It adds that ordinances must be consistent with state and federal law, and Bishop would argue this one isn’t.

G.S. 160A-194 lets cities regulate and license businesses in ways that protect a community’s health, welfare and safety.

Bishop argues that ordinances protecting LGBT citizens “have no foundation in the history or traditions of the state.” (Neither did protecting African-Americans for a long time.) Such measures would block businesses from serving whom they please, which he calls a “general legal principle of the state.” The city ordinance would also, Bishop says, violate the state’s building code, which requires separate bathrooms for each gender.

It’s an interesting legal question, and one the N.C. Supreme Court would perhaps ultimately decide. But does anyone think it’s good to remove protections against racial or religious discrimination? And does anyone want to campaign for office having led the fight to repeal them?

Aside from that threat, LGBT citizens deserve the same protection from discrimination as other minorities. No one should be denied service based on their gender expression.

“Most laws struck down are because they restrict freedoms,” Hagemann told me today. “We view this as the opposite of that.”

The city is holding a community forum about the proposed ordinance tonight. The City Council will be briefed next Monday night and could vote as soon as Feb. 22. – Taylor Batten

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