CHARLOTTE, N.C. — So-called “religious freedom” bills under consideration in Arkansas and North Carolina, and widely condemned by LGBT advocates and a growing chorus of corporations and politicians, are facing new hurdles mid-week.
Indiana, which passed similar legislation, is reeling from widespread calls for boycotts. In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday morning he wants legislators there to rework the legislation.
In North Carolina, two related bills are facing questions from high-profile Republican leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory and Speaker of the House Tim Moore.
On Monday, McCrory said he would not sign an anti-LGBT magistrate bill, which would let public officials opt out of their civil marriage-related duties. He also said proposed religious freedom legislation, the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “make no sense.”
Moore said yesterday that lawmakers needed to take a long look at the religious freedom legislation.
“I think we need to show that if we approve this bill, that it will improve North Carolina’s brand,” he said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “Anything we do, we have to make sure we don’t harm our brand.”
Moore also said the bill would not be heard in a House committee this week, despite some lawmakers’ desire to push it forward.
“That’s not going to happen,” Moore said. “This is worthy of discussion. It’s going to take some time.”
Other Republican leaders are beginning to speak out on the religious freedom legislation, too. Huntersville Republican Rep. Charles Jeter questioned the intended affect of the proposal.
“The difference is how it’s intended to be applied,” Jeter said. “And while some people may not like it, society grows over time. I think this (proposal) is specific to the homosexual issues, the same-sex issues, the gender issues.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said Wednesday that he is encouraged by the growing conversation on the legislation.
“I’m heartened that we are where we’ve always said we are — equality is not a partison issue,” he said. “I think there are both civil rights and business reaons why it makes sense for conservatives to be against [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or SB2 or to be in favor of non-discrimination protections.”
Like the religious freedom bill, advocates sense that the magistrate bill will also be put on hold. It received public comment in a House committee nearly a month ago and hasn’t been heard since.
The stalling, no doubt, is inspired by the backlash being faced by Indiana. Several companies have said they’ll halt or revisit business plans in that state.
On Tuesday, several companies told state lawmakers across the country that the proposed discriminatory legislation is bad for businesses. Companies with large Charlotte and North Carolina presences signed the letter, including American Airlines, Replacements Ltd and Wells Fargo.
In a separate statement, American Airlines, which has its second-largest hub in Charlotte, stressed its opposition to the proposed legislation.
“We believe no individual should be refused service or employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said in a statement, according to the Charlotte Observer. “…Laws like this will harm the economies of the states in which they are enacted, and would ultimately be a step in the wrong direction for a society that seeks tolerance, peace and prosperity for all.”
McCrory hasn’t directly said he will veto the magistrate or religious freedom bills. Advocates want community members to continue speaking out on the bills and contact their legislators and contact the governor.
“I think it is going to take continued pressure from the LGBT community,” Sgro said. “It’s going to take sustained pressure from the business community. I think [McCrory] has staked out a pretty moderate position on this. We are really hopeful he will provide the veto that we need if either of these pieces of legislation get that far.”
Both the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority have publicly questioned the merits of the legislation.