Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger represents the 9th Congressional District, covering portions of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Iredell County.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s largest daily newspaper called for LGBT-inclusive employment protections in a column from its editorial board on Tuesday.

The Charlotte Observer‘s editorial follows comments from a local congressman who said he supports the right of businesses to fire LGBT people.

Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents portions of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Iredell County, recently said the ability of employers to discriminate against LGBT employees is one of “the freedoms we enjoy” as Americans. Government, he says, shouldn’t intervene in the affairs of private employers, including their hiring and firing policies.

Pittenger had expanded on his thoughts with a Alice Ollstein, a reporter from ThinkProgress. After a Ballantyne town hall meeting this month, he compared the ability to fire gays to smoking bans.

“Do you ban smoking or do people have the right to private property? I think people have the right to private property,” Pittenger told Ollstein. “In public spaces, absolutely, we can have smoking bans. But we don’t want to micromanage people’s lives and businesses. If you have a business, do you want the government to come in and tell you you need to hire somebody? Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

The Charlotte Observer‘s editorial board reached out to Pittenger for more clarification. He stood by his remarks, and refused to answer the Observer’s question on whether private employers should also be able to discriminate on the basis of race or other characteristics.

The Observer ended their editorial calling for new employment protections: “Most of North Carolina’s companies get it; discriminating based on sexual orientation threatens a business’ ability to attract and retain the best talent. Yet North Carolina is one of 29 states that allow gay workers to be fired for that reason alone. The legislature, backed by business and a majority of the public, should change that next session. Equal opportunity, after all, is really not a partisan issue.

You can read the full editorial at charlotteobserver.com…

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.