It looks like North Carolina is the latest state to discover the pitfalls of trying to govern from the extreme. HB2, passed in a special one-day session, specifically overwrote a Charlotte, North Carolina ordinance that allowed people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity. The hastily signed law by now-chagrinned Governor Pat McCrory requires North Carolina citizens to use the restroom aligned with the sex assigned to them by birth on their birth certificate or face the penalty of law.
The ink was hardly dry before the ACLU was filing a suit. And then the real recoil began. PayPal canceled plans to build offices in the state, at a cost of some four hundred jobs. The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) canceled plans for a concert in the state. North Carolinians can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that they are not the only state dumb enough to pass laws like these. Georgia’s governor vetoed a bill with similar intentions. Mississippi looks primed to follow North Carolina’s example with a “religious liberty” bill that gives permission to businesses to discriminate against people they don’t like because of God or something. It’s not even law and it’s promoting a backlash, causing Sharon Stone to move the location of her new film out of the state and the governor of Oregon to move the christening of the USS Oregon’s sister ship to his state. Of course Indiana got bitch slapped on similar issues last year, and even Arizona saw that light when convention bookings slowed down.
Why do these states do this? It’s like they have a death wish. In most cases there is no groundswell of constituents demanding these laws, but there are often fundamentalist groups who have the ears of legislators instead. The answer in part is because legislators in these states have their ears keenly tuned to hear messages from these groups who sustain their hold on power. But the only reason they have so much power is because states like North Carolina are gerrymandered to provide extremely disproportionate representation for conservatives. The nature of gerrymandering is that it is an artificial construct that cannot survive for long because it is unfair. A backlash was inevitable. Worse, these laws were entirely preventable and there were plenty examples of states who had already suffered the consequences. That would have at least suggested some caution, perhaps the governor shelving the bill for a few weeks to let tempers cool.
So much stupidity but perhaps the stupidest thing is that these laws try to solve problems that don’t even exist. Let me ask you what would be more disruptive: a trans man using a ladies restroom because his birth certificate says he is a woman, or a trans woman using a men’s restroom for a similar reason. The latter sounds the more dangerous to me; if I were a trans woman I’d literally prefer to pee in my pants before going into a men’s room. Of course that’s part of the problem. It’s hugely challenging when your gender misaligns with your sex and particularly during and after the transition process. It’s only now after a couple of decades that the trans community is starting to get some sympathy from the general public, mainly because most of us haven’t tuned into it. It’s a complex issue as I discovered some years back.
But the religious freedom arguments really sound shallow. Religious freedom in this case is basically government-approved bigotry. Doubtless there are passages in the Bible that suggest black people are evil (curious as most Jews are Semites and if not quite black have dark-hued skins.) Under the guise of religious freedom then anyone can assert they have a right to run a business that caters only to non-blacks. If it’s not in the Bible, it’s still no big deal. Create your own religion where only white people are holy and there you go. You can assert it’s your sincere religious belief and who can doubt you? These laws protect not the richest 1% but allow the most bigoted 1% to selectively shame people they don’t like with impunity.
The good news for bigots is that they have every right to be a bigot in their private lives. However, a business cannot be called public if it does not accept all comers. If I own a bakery and don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, I can get out of the bakery business. Or I can decide that I understand that being public means everyone can ask for my services and baking one doesn’t mean I support gay marriage but it does mean I have sanction to profit from anyone who walks in my shop door.
There is some concern that these laws will require ministers to marry gay couples or face the penalty of law. I’m not sure where this comes from but it’s a specious concern. You might as well worry that a Catholic priest will be required to perform a Jewish wedding. Religious marriage ceremonies require parties to agree to the marriage rules of the religion. I suppose it is possible that a state law might require any legal “celebrant” to perform a civil marriage, and that celebrant could also be a minister. In this case though the ceremony would be purely civil, does not have to be performed in their church and would have no religious connotation.
One thing that is clear is that these laws are toxic. Generations X and Y have made it clear that everyone must be treated equally under the laws, so at best these laws will prove to be short-lived. Perhaps it’s possible these legislators don’t understand how hurtful and shaming these laws are, but more likely they do understand and that’s part of their animus in voting them in. They will get their comeuppance in time. In North Carolina, a recent poll puts Governor McCrory four points behind his LGBT-friendlier challenger.
When you make it your business to shame others, you will inevitably find that it will shame you instead. Give it a few months as more businesses leave the state and I think North Carolina legislators will find a reason to quietly repeal HB 2. Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and other states in this boat will too in time but sadly are likely to look for less overt ways to discriminate instead. There are always those Voter ID laws.