RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly took action after Charlotte city leaders last month approved a broad anti-discrimination measure. Critics focused on language in the ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.
McCrory, who was the mayor of Charlotte for 14 years and had criticized the local ordinance, signed the legislation Wednesday night that he said was “passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette.”
Although 12 House Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the bill in the afternoon, later all Senate Democrats in attendance walked off their chamber floor during the debate in protest. Remaining Senate Republicans gave the legislation unanimous approval.
“We choose not to participate in this farce,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said after he left the chamber.
Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said the Democrats’ decision to leave was a “serious breach of their obligation to the citizens that voted to elect them.”
Republicans and their allies have said intervening is necessary to protect the safety of women and children from “radical” action by Charlotte. There have been arguments that any man — perhaps a sex offender — could enter a woman’s restroom or locker room simply by calling himself transgender.
“It’s common sense — biological men should not me be in women’s showers, locker rooms and bathrooms,” said GOP Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe before the chamber voted 82-26 for the legislation after nearly three hours of debate.
Gay rights leaders and transgender people said the legislation demonizes the community and espouses bogus claims about increasing the risk of sexual assaults. They say the law will deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people essential protections needed to ensure they can get a hotel room, hail a taxi or dine at a restaurant without fear.
“McCrory’s reckless decision to sign this appalling legislation into law is a direct attack on the rights, well-being and dignity of hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians and visitors to the state,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. Civil liberties groups pledged to push for repeal and were weighing legal options. A Thursday evening rally was planned.