Restroom law likely safe despite N.C. election saga

RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) -- Regardless of who emerges victorious in North Carolina's still undecided governor's race, some of the state's Baptists believe a controversial law limiting transgender restroom access will remain in force.

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Incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who has defended the law known as House Bill 2, trails Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat and staunch H.B. 2 critic, by some 5,000 votes with more than 58,000 provisional ballots to be adjudicated and potentially counted, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

A smaller number of absentee ballots also remain uncounted, and about 90,000 votes in Durham County are being challenged by McCrory, who claims there was "malfeasance" in tabulating them. The governor additionally claims "irregularities" around the state, according to the News & Observer.

The election results are scheduled to be certified Nov. 29, The Washington Post reported. But legal challenges and recounts could stretch into December, according to the News & Observer.

H.B. 2 is a statewide antidiscrimination law which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among legally protected classes. The law also requires individuals in state buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The election's outcome "should not affect [H.B. 2] at all," said Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor who has run for both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as a Republican.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a vocal H.B. 2 supporter, was reelected by a 52-45 margin, and the legislature that drafted and passed H.B. 2 retained a veto-proof Republican majority.

The legislature's composition makes any repeal of H.B. 2 unlikely, Harris said. If a Cooper administration refused to defend the law against legal challenges -- which Cooper has already done as attorney general -- the legislature could hire its own legal counsel.

"Some in the media would love to say" a McCrory loss would be "due to H.B. 2," Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., told Baptist Press. However, "the evidence proves" that such a claim is inaccurate.

"If you look at the results of the election," Harris said, "H.B. 2 probably did more to help turn out conservatives and Christians and help put them over the finish line than hurt anybody in this election."

McCrory may have lost up to 30,000 votes because of a toll road he supported in the northern Charlotte area, Harris said, noting that region played a significant role in the governor's struggle to win reelection.

Mecklenberg county commissioner Jim Puckett, who represents the area in question, told the Charlotte Observer that "compared to tolls, H.B. 2 is a non-issue in north Mecklenberg."

Paul Stam, speaker pro tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives, told BP election results appear to confirm public support of H.B. 2.

"Seventy-one House Republicans voted for H.B. 2," Stam, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee from 2005-09, said in an email. "Two of them lost reelection. But they were replaced by two other Republicans, in one case a pastor from Sanford [N.C.].

"No senator who voted for H.B. 2 was defeated, notwithstanding millions of dollars spent to defeat them," Stam said. "Republicans increased their supermajority in the assembly by one. The outcome of the election for governor will matter. But no matter who wins that election, H.B. 2 will not be eviscerated if the Baptists of North Carolina speak up."

Still, the pro-transgender rights organizations Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina said H.B. 2 "cost McCrory his reelection" and "dragged down several state candidates."

"We are confident that once the results are certified, Roy Cooper's victory will be confirmed," HRC President Chad Griffin and Equality North Carolina executive director Chris Sgro said in a statement. "By electing Roy Cooper their next governor, North Carolinians have sent a powerful message across their state and this country that the days of anti-[lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer] politicians targeting our community for political gain are over."

A federal trial over the legality of H.B. 2 was slated to begin this month but has been postponed until at least late summer as both sides await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning transgender restroom access in Virginia, the Greensboro News & Record reported.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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