Businesses and LGBT advocates aren’t the only entities pressuring North Carolina to repeal its recently enacted anti-LGBT law, which is now being scrutinized by the Obama administration to see whether it jeopardizes the state’s federal funds.
Under questioning from the Associated Press, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday North Carolina’s House Bill 2 raises “policy and legal questions” that federal agencies are now investigating.
“There are some both policy and legal questions that are raised by the passage of this law and there are a number of government agencies that are thinking through those questions now and taking a look at what impact it may have on existing law,” Earnest said.
Last week, the New York Times reported various agencies within the Obama administration — including the Departments of Education, Transportation and Housing & Urban Development — are evaluating whether passage of House Bill 2 will impact federal policy in North Carolina, such as loss of federal funds. Critics of the law have said it contravenes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which both prohibit gender discrimination under current law.
“I can just say that more generally, this administration is committed to defending and even promoting the equal rights of all Americans,” Earnest added. “And our commitment to that principle that people shouldn’t be discriminated against just because of who they love is one that’s worth fighting for, and this administration, this president will continue to speak out in support of those equal rights because that’s part and parcel of what it means to live in the greatest country in the world.”
House Bill 2, signed into law last month by Gov. Pat McCrory after an emergency session of the state legislature, undoes all pro-LGBT city ordinances in North Carolina, including a recently approved measure in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity in schools and government buildings.
In the aftermath of jurisdictions ranging from San Francisco to Seattle to D.C. to New York instituting bans on non-essential government travel to North Carolina following enactment of the anti-LGBT law, Earnest said he’s “not aware of a policy decision like that that’s been reached” in terms of the federal government instituting a travel ban to the state.
Asked for more details on what kind of federal penalties North Carolina could face as a result of enacting the anti-LGBT, Earnest declined to be more specific from the podium.
“There are a range of individual agencies that are taking a look at this, and so obviously you can ask them if they’ve reached any determinations about how this particular law would have an impact on their interactions with the state of North Carolina,” Earnest said.
The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the office of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory seeking comment on potential loss of federal funds for his state over House Bill 2.
Amid clamor to repeal the law, including calls from more than 120 national companies that have signed an open letter seeking action and entertainment companies that have ceased TV and film production in the state, Earnest concluded the national backlash is understandable.
“I will just say that it’s not surprising to me that there are a number of significant business entities that have come out to express their concerns about this law,” Earnest said. “Obviously, the state of North Carolina has benefited significantly from what officials in the state proudly describe as a hospitable business environment. Passage of laws like this do not create a hospitable business environment, particularly if businesses are concerned that either their employees or their customers are not going to be treated fairly by the state, or are going to be singled out by the state, and I’m not surprised to hear government officials in North Carolina are feeling some pressure on this right now.”
Under later questioning, Earnest said the review currently is being conducted at the right now at the agency level, but he “certainly wouldn’t rule out that the White House at some point would need to be involved in that effort.”
“So the agencies will consider that,” Earnest said. “They’ll make that evaluation and they’ll take a look at the law, they’ll take a look at policy. And if we reach the point where a process needs to be led by the White House to make that kind of decision, then we’ll do that. We won’t hesitate to do that. But right now, this is a process that individual agencies are undertaking.”