Two red states, Texas and North Carolina, seem to have -- at least temporarily -- averted a likely Indiana-style showdown over controversial legislation considered by many to be discriminatory against the LGBT community.
In Texas, two provisions died in the Republican-controlled legislature this week. One, which came in the form of an amendment attached to an unrelated county government bill, would have prohibited state and local funds from being used to license and/or recognize same-sex marriages. Its language was modeled off of a failed House bill, HB 4105, which critics derided as a blatant attempt to subvert an expected Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, due out next month.
The other measure was also an amendment, this time attached to a child welfare-funding bill. If passed, it would have allowed adoption agencies to turn away prospective parents on religious grounds. According to Human Rights Campaign, this was the third time that the legislation’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Scott Sanford, tried to resurrect his dead House bill this session.
Both amendments, however, were unceremoniously dropped this week without much explanation. With less than four hours to go before the Senate deadline for passing bills expired on Wednesday, lawmakers in that chamber abandoned the marriage measure, instead choosing to pass a non-binding resolution that affirmed “the present definition” of marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. That same day, Sanford passed on an opportunity to amend legislation on the House floor with his adoption measure.
It’s not clear why lawmakers walked away from these provisions, though opposition from the business community may have played a role. Earlier this year, several businesses and organizations responsible for pumping millions of dollars into Indiana’s economy were quick to condemn a controversial “religious freedom” measure, criticized by many around the country for potentially opening the door to broad discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds. In April, Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence ended up signing a “fix” to the law making clear that it could not be used by religious business owners as a license to turn away patrons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Such backlash from the business community also prompted Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to amend a similar law in his state last month, and spurred Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to outright veto a “religious freedom” bill that cleared her state’s GOP-dominated Legislature last year.
Texas-based Dell Inc. said in a statement earlier this month that it told the state’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott the company considered diversity a "business imperative.” Additionally, given that the NFL and the NCAA have both spoken out against bills considered to be anti-LGBT in the past, there perhaps was also a plausible concern that Texas’ measures could have jeopardized the state’s plans of hosting next year’s men’s Final Four championship and the 2017 Super Bowl -- though neither sports organization directly addressed the Texas measures.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, a measure that would’ve allowed government officials to recuse themselves from performing marriage ceremonies by citing their religious beliefs looks to have met a similarly abrupt demise.
Senate Bill 2 cleared the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 67 to 43, having already been approved by the state Senate in February. But Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who has done little to establish himself as a friend of the LGBT community, dealt a blow to the measure's supporters later in the day Thursday when he announced he would veto the bill.
"I recognize that for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman,” McCrory said in a statement. “However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers also tried to pass a different “religious freedom” measure similar to the one that became the target of widespread condemnation in Indiana. But facing opposition from businesses, including IBM and American Airlines, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore declared the bill dead for the session.
It’s not yet clear whether the North Carolina Legislature has the three-fifths support of its voting membership necessary to override McCrory’s veto of SB 2. But for the moment, at least, red state efforts to roll back the recent advancements of the LGBT equality movement look to have hit a wall.