N.C. Kills 'Bathroom Bill' But Now Texas Wants One

In North Carolina, much ado has been made recently about HB2, colloquially known as the “bathroom bill.” This bill, which has attracted the interest of social conservatives in other Republican states, tells businesses and municipalities that they cannot create their own public restroom policies.

Under HB2, everyone must use the restroom for the gender listed on his or her birth certificate.  This means that transsexuals, who identify with a gender other than the one listed at birth, could not choose which restroom to use. Critics have lambasted HB2 as a thinly-disguised excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Supporters of the controversial bill have defended it as protecting women and children in public restrooms.

According to HB2 supporters, before the “bathroom bill,” anyone could enter any restroom by claiming that the restroom conformed to his or her gender identity…and accost innocent citizens inside. The most common example given is a man lecherously entering the women’s restroom. 

In the culture wars, it appears that North Carolina’s conservative legislature has lost this round.  After HB2 passed, condemnation was overwhelming. And, worse than scorn, it subjected North Carolina to economic pain. The Associated Press figured that North Carolina would lose close to $4 billion in lost business due to the law as companies decide to avoid locating offices or facilities in the Tar Heel state.

At first, conservatives remained defiant, insisting that economic analyses were incorrect.  But now, the pain in the pocketbook, plus the nationwide derision, has become great enough to make the state legislature think twice. The legislature has voted to repeal HB2, which was subsequently sent to and signed by the governor. North Carolina is no doubt hoping they will cease being the bigoted laughingstock of the United States.

But, even as North Carolina rectifies its mistake, the state of Texas stands poised to pick up the mantle of bigotry.  In Austin, the state legislature is still poised to pass Texas’ own version of North Carolina’s HB2. This bill, championed by arch-conservative lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, has already brought national scorn upon Texas. As in North Carolina, business groups have fretted about the bathroom bill’s negative impact on businesses. In fact, the Texas Association of Business has come out against the bill and says that Texas will feel the same economic pinch as its southern cousin did if it passes the controversial proposal.

With the Republican Party being decidedly pro-business, a painful split appears to be developing between business leaders and conservative Christians. Business leaders appear to have gotten on board with the idea that overt discrimination is bad for profits, but social conservatives continue to cling to segregationist tendencies. Bathroom bills like HB2, and its potential Texas clone, have few political benefits in the generations after Jim Crow: They bring great economic and social risks, but little reward.

First of all, HB2 is riddled with hypocrisy. It is textbook big government: It bans municipalities and states from exercising their own discretion on restroom policies. Many businesses have taken a hands-off approach to regulating restrooms. They, like many Americans, have taken a live-and-let-live approach. If someone identifies as female, they may use the women’s restroom. If someone identifies as male, they may use the men’s restroom. 

By forcing a “what’s on the birth certificate” regulation, these Republican legislatures are handing down the same type of top-down restrictions that they usually decry from Washington.

In order to “protect” citizens, Republicans in North Carolina and Texas have taken to restricting their freedoms, including the freedoms of business owners. These business regulations are also the same type of thing that Republicans usually criticize when it comes from Democrats.  Requiring business owners to pay a minimum wage is wrong, these conservatives would argue, but somehow it is acceptable to force business owners to regulate restroom use?

Republicans also hate “pointless” regulations, and HB2 is about as pointless as it can get. First of all, it is entirely unenforceable on any realistic scale. Will people be stationed around public restrooms to check birth certificates? Obviously not. And, should anyone ever be caught in a restroom that does not match the sex on his or her birth certificate, could a prosecutor prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt?

Obviously, any defendant could simply say “sorry, I walked into the wrong restroom.” Done deal. Such mistakes happen all the time, especially when people are in a hurry and in unfamiliar surroundings. Women accidentally walk into the men’s room, and men accidentally walk into the women’s room. The vast majority of the time, nothing untoward happens. The person realizes their mistake and exits quietly, if perhaps a little embarrassed.

Given the ease and commonness of walking into the wrong public restroom, nobody will ever be convicted of violating a bathroom bill. Therefore, the law would simply be a waste of ink and paper. For Republicans who are all about avoiding government waste, that is perhaps the biggest crime of all. Texans should stand up and strike down the despicable HB2 clone that is tarnishing the state legislature.

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