State Politics

Examining the NCAA’s logic in singling out North Carolina

Fans line up outside PNC Arena before UNC’s game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 17, 2016.
Fans line up outside PNC Arena before UNC’s game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 17, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The NCAA’s decision to pull men’s basketball tournament games and a number of collegiate championship matches out of North Carolina as a reaction to the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” law quickly spurred national reactions, positive and negative.

A common charge from critics of the NCAA’s decision has been that other states have the same laws regarding LGBT people that North Carolina does – but that those states aren’t being punished.

But the NCAA said its decision was because the situation in North Carolina “is different from that of other states because of at least four specific factors.”

So who is right about the nature of North Carolina law, the NCAA or its critics?

It’s the NCAA.

News & Observer photojournalists talked with residents of the Triangle to get their opinions on the NCAA's decision to remove all tournament events from N.C. due to House Bill 2.

Regarding LGBT rights, North Carolina has at least one restriction that no other state has, and no other state has the combination of laws North Carolina has. Furthermore, it’s subject to a travel ban by other state governments.

Here are the four factors the NCAA cited in its decision.

Overturning discrimination protections

“North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals,” the NCAA wrote.

That is true. Several city governments around North Carolina had rules protecting their own employees or subcontractors from discrimination based on LGBT status. But House Bill 2, passed in March by the legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, overturned those rules and further prevented any other local government from enacting such rules in the future.

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PolitiFact NC looked into that issue in March, giving a False ruling to McCrory’s claim that “We have not taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina.”

North Carolina, however, is not the only state with such a law. Arkansas and Tennessee also ban their cities and counties from having discrimination policies different from the state’s, and those state laws do not protect LGBT people from discrimination.

Bathroom access

“North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity,” the NCAA wrote.

That is true. Most states are silent on this issue, although some have considered – but not yet passed – laws like in North Carolina. Proponents of North Carolina’s bathroom provision say it’s for safety. PolitiFact NC found in March that there are no proven instances anywhere in the U.S. of a sexual predator using transgender-friendly bathroom rules to commit crimes, although it did happen once in Canada.

In 2015, Washington became the first and so far only state to do the opposite and specifically allow bathroom access based on gender identity.

Additionally, a number of individual city and county governments around the country have begun enacting laws to allow transgender people to use the bathroom based on the gender with which they identify instead of biological gender.

So while Washington is the outlier on one end, North Carolina is the outlier on the other end. The other 48 states have yet to choose which direction to go, although most of the country’s largest cities are following Washington.

Government can refuse services to LGBT people

“North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community,” the NCAA wrote.

That is true. Although it’s not part of HB2, North Carolina is one of just two states to specifically authorize magistrates to refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples if they have religious objections.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry. North Carolina’s legislature reacted by passing the law in question. That was against the advice of the director of the state court system, who said magistrates don’t ever perform religious ceremonies on the job – they just preside over civil matrimonies.

Some magistrates in a handful of other states have refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples – most famously Kim Davis in Kentucky – but North Carolina and Utah are the only states to pass a law explicitly giving magistrates that power.

The law is currently being challenged in court; N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s Democratic challenger who has refused to defend HB2, is defending the state.

Logistics concerns

“Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student athletes and campus athletics staff,” the NCAA wrote. “These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.”

That is true, and North Carolina is unusual in being the subject of a travel ban by other state governments. Mississippi has also been the subject of several state travel bans over its new law related to LGBT rights; however, the state was already banned from hosting most NCAA postseason play since 2001 due to the use of a Confederate emblem on its state flag.

The ban means that public universities from those states – including notable sports schools like UConn, Washington, Washington State, Minnesota and Stony Brook – couldn’t send their teams here if they were to have made it to one of the now-relocated postseason events.

Already, some teams have had to cancel regular-season games in North Carolina due to the travel bans – including Albany’s men’s basketball game against Duke and the University of Vermont’s women’s basketball game against UNC.

North Carolina’s legislature passed a law that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The law — House Bill 2 (HB2) — has incited a state-wide civil liberties battle. Here is the timel

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran

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