North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced on Tuesday that he would decline to defend his state’s vicious new anti-LGBTQ law in court. The measure, which bars trans people from many public bathrooms and nullifies local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, has provoked outcry both within the state and across the country, as well as a high-profile constitutional challenge. But Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has stood by the law, claiming that the media was “distorting the truth” about its intent.
Cooper, who is challenging McCrory in the state’s gubernatorial race this year, struck a markedly different tone, describing the law as a “national embarrassment” and insisting that “it will set North Carolina's economy back if we don’t repeal it.” He also noted that the law conflicts with gender identity protections set forth by the federal Department of Justice and the North Carolina treasury department. It is unclear who will now step in to defend the legislation, though McCrory and the legislature are likely to hire outside counsel—as several states did when their attorneys general refused to defend same-sex marriage bans.
McCrory may still be defending the law he encouraged the legislature to pass, but his state is currently suffering a hailstorm of fervent disapproval. The business community’s reaction appears especially likely to sting: Among the long list of companies, CEOs, and associations who disapprove of the law are Dow Chemical, IBM, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, PayPal, Airbnb, Dropbox, Tumblr, Yahoo, Pinterest, Yelp, YouTube, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Marriott, the NBA, and the NCAA. According to organizers, a huge furniture expo that brings billions of dollars to the local economy risks losing thousands of customers who will not patronize a state that openly discriminates against LGBTQ people. The mayors of San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle have banned non-essential publicly funded travel to the state, as has New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Meanwhile, even McCrory’s fellow Republican governors are jumping ship: On Monday, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar measure, explaining that the bill “doesn't reflect the character of our state or the character of our people.” McCrory and his allies in the legislature may continue to defend their toxic law. But it is increasingly clear that they will be standing alone.
Update, March 29, 2016: This post has been updated with additional information about the fallout from the law.