Opinion: Is There Any Room For Compromise on HB2?
Because I don't see it
Maybe there’s a way Mayor Jennifer Roberts can work out some kind of compromise with legislative leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore over House Bill 2. But honestly, it’s hard to see from here how it’s possible, or even advisable.
The crux of the matter is this: Should local governments in North Carolina have the power to enact and enforce nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as they have for decades on the basis of race, gender, national origin, marital and familial status, and religion? It’s a simple yes-or-no answer. You sign off on that idea, or you don’t.
In that light, any of the potential compromises outlined during their meeting in Raleigh on Thursday are either politically unfeasible or fail to solve the problem.
The state makes unspecified changes to the law in exchange for the Charlotte City Council rescinding the ordinance, which it passed by a 7-4 vote in February? What good would that do? HB2 already nullified the ordinance anyway. A City Council vote would be entirely symbolic, not to mention humiliating, a case of Charlotte having to dig the grave for its own ordinance’s corpse; Roberts might as well offer to sit in a dunking booth and let legislators fire baseballs at the target.
The General Assembly repeals the part of HB2 that prohibits local governments from adopting protections for gay and transgender people, but keeps the rest of the law? Not likely. Legislators have already infuriated one half of the state by passing the law in the first place. Repealing the “bathroom provision,” especially after six weeks of insisting that the Charlotte ordinance would set sexual predators loose in bathrooms throughout the city, would infuriate everyone else, too.
Allow local governments to adopt general protections for LGBT people but prohibit them from allowing transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice? Same problem as before, and given the U.S. Justice Department’s clear statement on the matter Wednesday, would single out transgender people for discrimination.
Allow Charlotte’s ordinance to stand but adopt harsher penalties for crimes that occur in public restrooms? It’s a clever solution, essentially calling the state’s bluff on the false idea that expanded nondiscrimination ordinances increase the risk of sex crimes in bathrooms. That’s a primary reason why it’s unlikely to happen. Politically, it’d be seen as a state capitulation to the city’s wishes.
Like it or not, both sides have painted themselves into their respective corners. Given the rhetoric out of Raleigh since February, and especially since March 23, there’s simply no incentive for the General Assembly to budge a millimeter on HB2. Any willingness city officials might have had to scale back its position would look craven after the Justice Department came down strongly last week on the city side of the fight.
No, this is still headed to court, no matter what comes out of the meetings. I just don’t see any other way around it. And it’s not as if some half-measure will repair the damage HB2 has already inflicted on the state. The time for the conversations Roberts, Berger, and Moore are having now already passed some weeks back.