HB2 and SB2: North Carolina is the new ground zero for anti-LGBT laws

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner, evoking the powerful ways that history haunts the South. Those words certainly resonate when it comes to the long legacy of using specific religious beliefs to justify discrimination. That is exactly what’s on display in North Carolina during 2016, as extreme legislators persist in their persecution of LGBT people through laws like SB2 and HB2.

In the summer of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling granting same-sex couples the constitutional right to marry in all 50 states. As a direct response to this ruling, state legislatures, especially in the South, have been flooded with anti-LGBT bills. North Carolina has become the new ground zero for the far right’s latest anti-LGBT strategies with the passage of SB2 (which allows public employees to recuse themselves from performing marriages because of religious objections to same-sex marriage) and HB2 (a draconian measure targeting transgender people and banning local LGBT protections. Despite public outcry, HB2 was introduced, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) and signed into law by Governor McCrory in less a day. Put bluntly, we never had a chance to stop HB2. Efforts at repealing the law during this year’s legislative session met a similar fate.

Those who are stridently anti-LGBT have disproportionate political power in the South and, conversely, the LGBT community has disproportionately limited political power. Taken together, it’s an insidious and combustible mix that yields extremism in the form of both a legislative agenda and political rhetoric. It’s also out of touch with the attitudes of most North Carolinians, who support equality in growing numbers and are more and more likely to know and love a LGBT person. North Carolina is home to an estimated 250,000 LGBT adults, and LGBT people — including kids — live in every town in our state.

Both HB2 and SB2 now face federal court hearings in North Carolina. On August 1 in Winston-Salem, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder will hear oral arguments in the ACLU’s legal challenge to HB2. And on August 8 in Asheville, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. will hear the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit against SB2.

These laws are two tentacles of a well-funded, well-organized anti-LGBT movement that is based in the U.S. and works across the country — and the globe — to restrict LGBT rights. For example, the NC Family Policy Council — a state-level arm of Focus on the Family, one of the largest anti-LGBT groups in the country — pushed hard for the passage of SB2. The Alliance Defending Freedom, another large anti-LGBT group, is providing legal services to defend the law.

Sooner rather than later, both of these laws will be struck down by the federal courts. (North Carolina taxpayers are footing the bill for the NCGA’s malpractice. During its summer session, the NCGA failed to repeal HB2, but did find the time and political will to earmark $500,000 in the state budget to defend the law.) A more perfect union requires constant vigilance: until we change the political power structure of the South, federal courts offer the swiftest remedy to an abuse of legislative powers.

The past haunts us, yes, but it also guides us — for every terrible chapter of systemic discrimination in our nation’s history, there is also a story of the remarkable courage of the everyday Americans who resisted and ultimately toppled these laws, from courtrooms to voting booths to lunchroom counters to marriage license counters. It will be no different now.

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which is based in North Carolina and promotes full LGBT equality across the South.