Southern Baptist leaders welcomed the North Carolina legislature’s refusal to repeal its hotly debated restroom privacy law.
The state Senate defeated in a 32-16 vote Dec. 21 a proposal to rescind the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, the controversial bill known as H.B. 2 that requires individuals in government buildings to use the restrooms of the sex on their birth certificates rather than of their gender identity. The House of Representatives took no action during a day-long special session.
The special session came in response to the Charlotte City Council’s Dec. 19 vote to overturn its ordinance that prompted the enactment of H.B. 2, which invalidated the action by the legislative body of the state’s largest city. The council vote – and a second vote for the ordinance’s full repeal Wednesday – occurred with the expectation that the General Assembly would repeal H.B. 2.
The legislature failed to find agreement on a repeal measure, however, leaving the Republican majority in the legislature trading charges with Governor-elect Roy Cooper, Democratic legislators and the Democrat-controlled Charlotte council.
Southern Baptist leaders expressed their belief the General Assembly acted properly to protect citizens.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said he was glad to see “a common-sense approach that protects individuals as well as conscience” kept in place.
“The government should not obstruct the rights of those who dissent from the demands of the sexual revolution,” Moore said in written remarks for Baptist Press. “At the same time, as Christians the church must redouble our efforts to teach and model God’s good creation design of male and female and offer gospel hope to those in our communities who struggle.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a written statement, “We are thankful for the members of the General Assembly who stood up for what is right, and represented the will of voters by stopping the move to cower and cave-in to the City of Charlotte and the Human Rights Campaign.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which backed the Charlotte ordinance and the repeal of H.B. 2, is the country’s largest political organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Fitzgerald, an ERLC trustee, noted, “We continue to encourage our leaders to never sacrifice the privacy, safety or freedom of young girls by forcing them to use the bathroom, shower or change clothes with grown men just to satisfy the demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations or angry mobs.”
“Nor should they sacrifice the freedom of everyone to live and work according to their beliefs,” she said.
Mark Harris, senior pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, held a news conference with other pastors on the eve of the special session.
“We urged the legislature to stay strong,” he told Baptist Press (BP) in a phone interview. “They did not have to do this.”
He believes Cooper, who defeated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in November, and the Charlotte City Council were “operating at the behest of the Human Rights Campaign,” Harris said.
The “real tipping point that blew the whole thing up,” he said, came when LGBT rights leaders who were backing the reversal of H.B. 2 said publicly they had been assured repeal would mean Charlotte and other cities would have an “open door” to provide “even broader protections” for the LGBT community.
“It was obvious that once this was repealed that they planned to have every city in North Carolina to be able to pass these ordinances much like what Charlotte had,” Harris told BP.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Harris and the other pastors urged the General Assembly – regardless of the decisions made the next day – to maintain as “a supreme priority the protections and privacy of all citizens, particularly women and children.” They also urged future sexual orientation and gender identity proposals be decided in statewide public referenda, Harris said.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, and the City Council had twice before during 2016 refused to rescind their ordinance in trade for an offer for the legislature to repeal H.B. 2 before they suddenly reversed course Dec. 19, according to The Charlotte Observer. Cooper announced the same day he had assurances from GOP leaders in the General Assembly they would have a special session to overturn H.B. 2.
In the Dec. 21 special session, Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger offered a bill to repeal H.B. 2 that included a temporary moratorium on local ordinances like the one passed by the Charlotte council, The Observer reported. Democrats refused to back it with the moratorium.
The controversy over H.B. 2 prompted boycotts of North Carolina by such high-profile artists as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, as well as decisions by corporations not to expand their operations in the state. In addition, the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Atlantic Coast Conference canceled events scheduled in North Carolina.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on transgender rights in schools next year. The justices announced in late October they will review a lower court opinion regarding the right of a student to use the public school restroom that matches her gender identity rather than her biological sex.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled in April a school board in the state violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender student to use the restroom of her choosing, finding the ban on sex discrimination in the Title IX education amendments encompasses gender identity.
In May, the Obama administration issued a sweeping directive on transgender rights that told public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. The guidance was not legally binding, but it implied noncompliance could result in the loss of federal aid.
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.“
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)