North Carolina is in the news today for two reasons. One is that the University of North Carolina lost the men’s NCAA basketball championship game last night to Villanova on an amazing last-second shot.
The second reason is that the state’s “bathroom bill” debate continues to generate national controversy. The story began in Charlotte, where an ordinance was passed that forced businesses to allow transgender customers to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice. If it had gone into effect, business owners could have faced fines and even potential jail time if they did not accommodate transgender customers.
The state legislature then intervened, drafting legislation that requires individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex identified on their birth certificate. After Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, furor erupted.
Numerous governors and mayors across the country issued travel bans to North Carolina. Among them, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban is especially interesting. Houston voters’ action on a bathroom ordinance in 2015 was nearly identical to the North Carolina bill. Yet when the Syracuse men’s basketball team traveled to Houston to play in last weekend’s Final Four, Gov. Cuomo’s office was notably silent on their travel plans.
Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general (and Gov. McCrory’s opponent in the fall election) has announced he will not defend the state in court. Of course, it’s the job of the attorney general to defend the state in court. Cooper has no legal basis for his position, but he obviously believes it will further his political career.
The New York Times is helping lead the fight. Frank Bruni titled his column on the subject, “The Republicans’ Gay Freakout.” The paper’s Sunday Review features a comic strip titled, “North Carolina’s Backward Bills.” It likens the bathroom legislation to fictional laws honoring Archie Bunker and other “bigots,” protecting schoolyard bullying, and gutting the Voting Rights Act. The comic strip refers to business owners who refuse to provide services based on religious convictions as “hateful entrepreneurs.”
The transgender “bathroom bill” controversy is complex, involving numerous legal, moral, and biblical questions. (For my survey of the larger issue, please see “The Transgender Bathroom Controversy: What You Need to Know.”) We need a reasoned debate on this issue, seeking a solution that is fair to all. But that’s not what’s happening. The controversy is being used to demonize opponents, sell newspapers, and advance political careers.
All affected by the “bathroom bill” debate, whatever their age and sexual identity, deserve better. Christians especially should be respectful when we engage our culture on divisive issues. “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is urgent for any who would represent the God who is truth (John 14:6) and love (1 John 4:8).
Here’s how I conclude my website essay on this issue: “Whatever your view regarding transgender and transsexual people, know that Jesus died for them just as he died for you. If God loves them, it’s your job to love them, too.”
Do you agree?