California Isn't Having North Carolina's State-Sanctioned Bigotry

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Springsteen won’t play there. Cirque du Soleil won’t hang there. PayPal and Deutsche Bank have canceled job-expansion plans there. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has rallied dozens of businesses to pull their investments from there. 

North Carolina’s recently passed House Bill 2, overturning local ordinances protecting LGBT people and embedding the right to discriminate against us in state law, is quickly turning North Carolina into a national pariah.

The growing ranks of those shunning the Tar Heel State include at least 18 cities and five states that have banned taxpayer-supported travel to North Carolina by their employees. California as yet is not among them, but a bill that would add the clout of the nation’s most populous state to the unofficial boycott is making its way through the California Assembly.

North Carolina is not alone, of course. It is joined by Mississippi and a growing number of other states across the country where right-wing legislators have targeted LGBT people – with a special emphasis often on the T – under so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. They purport to protect the right of government officials, landlords, employers, or business owners to follow their conscience according to their religious beliefs. While religious freedoms are rightly protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, they do not give carte blanche to evict, fire, or refuse to serve LGBT people. 

We advanced Assembly Bill 1887 to prohibit travel by state employees on California’s dime to any state that, like Mississippi, has enacted a new law that gives people a license to discriminate against LGBT people, whether in government, employment, housing or a place of business. It also targets states that, as in the case of North Carolina, have passed a law that voids local protections for LGBT people.

Californians support inclusiveness. Over the past 15 years, the state has passed a number of laws that give it the most comprehensive protections for LGBT people on the planet. But those protections do not extend past our State’s borders. AB 1887 sends a message, through the 10,000 out-of-state business trips that state employees take annually, that California tax dollars will not help fund discrimination.

North Carolina officials should have learned from Indiana’s flirtation last year with its own misguided RFRA. There too, officials ignored warnings of canceled conventions and voided contracts, passed their own measure, then beat a clumsy and hasty retreat when a boycott began to materialize. Thus far, both North Carolina and Mississippi have stayed their discriminatory course, in spite of further evidence of economic hemorrhaging and what appears to be a hit to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s popularity as he heads into a reelection bid.

The reason is simple: LGBT people, our lives, and our families are no longer controversial, and not just in California. National polls show support for marriage equality hovering around 60 percent. Many in North Carolina and Mississippi — Charlotte city leaders, as one prominent example — already support and understand the moral obligation to protect everyone equally under the law.

Savvy business leaders know that attracting the best talent means supporting a diverse workforce, and savvy politicians know that a healthy economy requires attracting employers. 

California leaders realized that long ago. While our laws may not extend to Mississippi, North Carolina, or whatever other state may make an ill-advised attempt to pass a discriminatory law in the near future, our money clearly does. AB 1887 uses the clout of the most populous state and the world’s eighth-largest economy to nudge out-of-state leaders who may need a bit of reminding that all their citizens deserve the full protection of the law.

Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) is author of AB 1887. Rick Zbur is executive director of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBT organization. 

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