It’s intermission at a concert in downtown Asheville. I head toward the women’s restroom. A cop standing at the door is checking birth certificates, which those of us in North Carolina have begun carrying on any day that we think we might have to use a bathroom.
OK, I’m kidding. That didn’t happen. That couldn’t happen. House Bill 2, which is both malicious and discriminatory (see “Privacy Invasion,” posted on April 1), is also absurdly unenforceable. This week a spokeswoman for the Asheville Police Department told an NPR (National Public Radio) reporter that every officer on the force would have to be pulled off the streets and onto bathroom patrol to make such a law work. And they’ve been issued no guidelines about what to do if they actually catch people in the act of—God forbid—relieving themselves illegally.
Not to mention that a fair number of us would have to search long and hard to find our birth certificates. Or that, even without the “biological sex” check at the door, during intermission at any symphony concert, bluegrass jam, dramatic production, or sports event in Asheville, the line for the women’s restroom is already halfway to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It’s also worth noting that the combined total of complaints in North Carolina’s four largest cities regarding transgender individuals in public restrooms is exactly none. Zero. The data collected nationwide reflects the same absence of concern. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch named the bill for what it is: “invent[ing] a problem that doesn’t exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment.”
In a press conference on Monday, she spoke directly to “the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my state of North Carolina.” She declared, “What this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share.” This truth-telling African-American woman reminded the nation of the hateful era when restrooms were segregated by race, and the suffering that was extracted to bring about change, urging, “Let us write a different story this time.”
Lynch, citing House Bill 2 as a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act and Title IX, filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against its enforcement, immediately throwing into possible jeopardy up to $4.2 billion in education funding to this state that ranks 46th in teacher pay. We’ve already lost millions through cancelled business contracts, concerts, and conventions.
Facing economic pressure and a deadline for repeal, Gov. Pat McCrory instead filed a counter-suit against the Department of Justice. More money will be lost in a legal battle over a law that makes no sense, and justice is once again stalled. President Obama responded today by sending a letter to every school district in the nation, telling administrators to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
The bathroom debate reflects a disturbing trend, in that religious folk of a certain stripe are claiming that they are being discriminated against, their religious freedom trampled upon, by being forced to accept behavior they find un-Christian. In other states their outrage has manifested itself in the refusal of registers of deeds to issue licenses for same-sex marriages, of bakers and florists to produce cakes and bouquets for them, and of pastors to officiate at them.
I may vehemently disagree with their biblical interpretation, but I support the right of pastors to refuse to officiate at a wedding. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I live in a beautiful cluster of mountains that has become a site for “destination weddings.” I’ve received a few calls from complete strangers—soon-to-be brides, and once the mother of one—asking me to “perform” their weddings in some lovely chapel in the woods or scenic viewpoint on the parkway. I take my role as a pastor seriously, and I won’t ask God’s blessing on a marriage I know nothing about; I’m not interested in the rent-a-minister business. To those pastors who won’t officiate at same-sex weddings I say, don’t worry, there are plenty of us who have and who will again.
But if you’re a public official, it seems to me that you’re obligated to uphold the laws of the land. And if you’re a business owner, what right do you have to inquire into the personal lives of your customers? If we’re going to start calling something a sin, then let’s at least be comprehensive. Perhaps a questionnaire for all customers before they can be served: Have you ever committed adultery? Had an abortion? Been divorced? Used illicit drugs? Enjoyed a beer or a cigarette? Jaywalked? Gossiped? Yelled at your kids? Told a lie? Cursed? Coveted something that didn’t belong to you?
Our Attorney General is correct that the place where I live is a great and beautiful state, and it grieves me that we are in the eye of the storm of a tragic controversy. Loretta Lynch is more optimistic than I, but I pray that her vision of a diverse, respectful, and inclusive nation will be realized. She acknowledged “It may not be easy,” and then declared “but we’ll get there together.” One can only hope.