North Carolina’s new LGBT law took a lot of people by surprise.
The outcry from more than 100 major companies and many on social media came too late to make a difference – most of the opponents weighed in after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law.
Sure, the legislative process went quickly: The General Assembly’s special session took place with only two days’ advance notice. And the bill itself wasn’t released publicly until the one-day session convened, with McCrory signing it about 12 hours later.
But the state has seen plenty of talk about transgender bathroom use and LGBT rights in the months leading up to the controversial law. Here’s a look back at what happened before the legislature made the unusual move to return to Raleigh on March 23.
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March 2, 2015: The Charlotte City Council votes 6-5 to reject a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to protected categories.
Before the vote, council members had removed part of the ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Two Democrats voted against the entire ordinance because the provision wasn’t included.
March 24, 2015: Two N.C. House Republicans, Reps. Jacqueline Schaffer and Dan Bishop of Charlotte, file a bill titled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which mirrors a similar law passed in Indiana.
Critics say the legislation would provide legal cover for businesses and individuals who discriminate against and refuse to serve gays and lesbians. But supporters say the state needs a law to protect people as they exercise the religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment. McCrory says he opposes the bill.
April 23, 2015: Facing opposition from business leaders and fellow Republicans, House Speaker Tim Moore announces that the House will not take up the “religious freedom” bill, effectively killing it for the session. A coalition of N.C. business groups called “Compete North Carolina” had formed to fight the measure.
June 11, 2015: The state House votes 69-41 to override McCrory’s veto of a bill to allow magistrates and register of deeds officials to avoid same-sex marriage duties if they invoke “any sincerely held religious objection.” The Senate had already voted to override. Opponents say it allows government employees to refuse to do their jobs in serving same-sex couples.
November 3, 2015: A municipal election in Charlotte reshapes the city council’s dynamic on the nondiscrimination issue. Two council members who opposed the LGBT protections and bathroom provision leave office, and only two Republicans remain on the council after a heated campaign in which the ordinance became a central issue.
Feb. 21, 2016: McCrory emails Charlotte council members urging them to vote down the nondiscrimination proposal. “This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy,” he wrote. “Also, this action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention which I would support as governor.”
Feb. 22: The Charlotte City Council approves the nondiscrimination ordinance in a 7-4 vote. It includes the provision on bathrooms and is set to take affect on April 1.
Feb. 25: Moore says he’s considering a special legislative session to overturn the Charlotte ordinance. He writes to GOP lawmakers, saying that “the recent radical actions of the Charlotte City Council ... pose a real danger to public safety concerning the sexual identity and bathroom matters ... If we do not act, the Charlotte ordinance will go into effect on April 1.”
Feb. 29: McCrory says in an interview that he’d prefer lawmakers address the Charlotte issue when the regular session begins on April 25, and he notes that a special session would cost $42,000. A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger issues a statement saying that “the earliest the legislature could take any action would be April 25.” But Berger’s office pushes back against an N&O report that suggests he opposes a special session. “Stop putting words in his mouth,” Berger chief of staff Jim Blaine tells a reporter in a text message. “Do you see a single comment about a special session in the statement?”
March 1: Attorney General Roy Cooper, who’s running against McCrory for governor, breaks weeks of silence on the Charlotte bathroom controversy. He says that existing criminal laws can address safety concerns and that lawmakers should deal with more important topics.
March 19: Moore says in a phone interview that a special session is likely within a week and that legislators have already been working on a draft bill. He declines to provide details of the draft bill. But a key Republican senator says he hasn’t been polled yet about calling a special session.
March 21: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who oversees the Senate, and Moore invoke a seldom-used constitutional provision to call the General Assembly into session at 10 a.m. March 23. McCrory declines to call the special session himself.
“It is our understanding that the proposal being considered goes beyond the scope of the bathroom issue and includes unrelated subject areas,” McCrory’s legislative liaison, Fred Steen, writes to legislators. “Anything above and beyond the bathroom (issue) ... should be dealt with during the full legislative session.”
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