Between Bigots: The Situation in the Anti-Gay South

north carolina state line

What the NC lawmakers really wish their signs would read.

LAST WEEK was a devastating one for LGBTQIA individuals living in the Southeast.

On Wednesday, Governor Pat McCrory signed North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ bill, House Bill 2, which will void all anti-discrimination ordinances statewide and allow bigots to target any queer individuals at will, when it goes into effect on April 1st.

Meanwhile, a few hours south in Georgia, a bill lying on Governor Nathan Deal’s desk would allow anyone to discriminate against another person, for any reason, so long as the discriminator has an applicable “sincerely held religious belief.” Almost identical to Arizona’s 2014 anti-gay bill — which Governor Jan Brewer vetoed — House Bill 757 would pave the way for “physicians and nurses to refuse medical care that they find religiously offensive … and allow government employees who adhere to extremist religions to refuse service to a person of a particular race.” Thankfully, due to pressure exerted by major corporations who threatened to stop doing business in Georgia if the bill passed, Governor Deal vetoed HB 757 yesterday. While we can breathe a sigh of relief at narrowly avoiding this close call, the fact that a bill this discriminatory even made it past Georgia’s legislature and onto Deal’s desk is terrifying.

Sandwiched between North Carolina and Georgia is South Carolina, my home state, where the “Natural Marriage Defense Act” — also known as House Bill 4513 — has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for the second time since January. The bill purports to give 40 reasons — including the assertion that “Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg … failed to recuse themselves from consideration of the case, after demonstrating personal bias in [the Obergefell v. Hodges] outcome” — why the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality should be considered null and void within the state.

Five states in the U.S. lack hate crime laws. Of the three in question above, only North Carolina previously had hate crime legislation on the books. Now, the state has thrown out all protections for anyone who is not cisgender or heterosexual. The defanged state legislation now protects against discrimination on the bases of “race, color, country of origin, religion, age and ‘biological sex,'” a trans-exclusionary category.

But it gets worse: this blindside in the North Carolina legislature is completely retaliatory. In February, Charlotte made headlines when its city council approved an ordinance banning LGBTQ discrimination in the city, adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s then-intact list of protected classes. Most controversial — and most celebrated — was the city council’s decision to protect bathroom access for transgender individuals.

Barely a month after Charlotte ruled that LGBTQ individuals were protected members of society, Wednesday’s special session of the North Carolina General Assembly convened to strip the entire state of its anti-discrimination laws. And that isn’t all. From The Atlantic:

The law not only overturns Charlotte’s ban [on anti-LGBTQ discrimination]: It also prevents any local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, and prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.

These bills have not gone unnoticed by business leaders. The backlash has been swift. Google, Apple, and American Airlines voiced their opposition to North Carolina’s legislation, with the NBA and NCAA hinting that it might relocate events scheduled to take place in the state. The organizations are just a handful among a growing list of major contributors to North Carolina’s economy.

While claiming the decision to veto was “about the character of our state and the character of our people,” Governor Deal must have decided that losing the film industry’s $6B impact if he signed the bill before him was too much of a financial boon to his state to give up. Although he said his state would follow the Supreme Court’s lead on marriage equality, he’s previously voiced support for religious freedom legislation elsewhere. Balanced against that support for his party’s conservative ideals is the fact that Deal courted California filmmakers last summer with greater tax incentives for studios who bring their production to Georgia, which has long been a location favorite for numerous film and television producers. Those days could have soon been at an end, seeing as how Disney and Marvel both promised to pull Guardians of the Galaxy 2‘s production out of Georgia if the anti-discrimination ordinance passed. Netflix and AMC vowed do the same with Orange Is the New Black and The Walking Dead. Amblin Partners, CBS, and NBCUniversal all made similar threats, and it seems that those threats were successful. While Deal will undoubtedly lose backing from his party over this veto, it’s clear that he has made the right decision both financially and morally. Whether or not South Carolina’s lawmakers will view the situation in the same light is anyone’s guess.

Will South Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ bill be rushed through the state legislature, à la North Carolina House Bill 2? That also remains to be seen. However, South Carolina does not protect queer individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations. Per the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, state law prohibits discrimination in the following only:

employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability; housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability; and public accommodations on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion.

LGBTQ individuals in South Carolina have no legal precedent for protection that originates from within the state. Sandwiched between bigoted legislatures to the north and south — Senator Mike Crane has already called for a special session of the Georgia legislature to override Deal’s veto, hours after its announcement — my home state might be the next to make disheartening headlines.