North Carolina on Wednesday passed a sweeping law overturning gay and transgender protections at the local level and requiring students to use restrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.
The measure was introduced Wednesday morning as part of a hastily called special session, passed both chambers later in the day and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory , a Republican, that evening. In a statement, McCrory said legislative action was necessary to prevent local governments from enacting nondiscrimination ordinances that overstep their authority in a way that might allow ‘‘a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.’’
But gay-rights groups called the legislation blatantly discriminatory and condemned it as the most extreme bill of its kind in the nation. With this measure, North Carolina becomes the first state to ban students from using restrooms that match with their gender identity if it clashes with their birth certificate.
‘‘Legislators have gone out of their way to stigmatize and marginalize transgender North Carolinians by pushing ugly and fundamentally untrue stereotypes that are based on fear and ignorance and not supported by the experiences of more than 200 cities with these protections,’’ Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in a statement.
State lawmakers pushed the measure in response to a nondiscrimination ordinance adopted in the city of Charlotte last month. It expanded civil-rights protections for individuals on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. But critics homed in on one aspect: that transgender people would be allowed to use their preferred restroom.
The conflict is characteristic of those that have unfolded in many conservative states in light of last year’s ruling by the Supreme Court that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. On one side, gay-rights groups have shifted their focus to pushing civil-rights measures. They argue that in many places now couples may marry but the lack of nondiscrimination protections forces them to keep their relationships secret to avoid being fired or refused service at restaurants and shops.
Federal civil-rights laws in general do not bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the way that they do on the basis race, sex, disability, religion and other factors.
On the other side, opponents of same-sex marriage have tried to carve out protections for individuals and business owners who have religious objections to same-sex marriage. And in an argument that has become a powerful deterrent to communities considering expanding protections for gays, they have raised the specter of men - or, more specifically, sexual predators - gaining access to women-only facilities.
The Charlotte ordinance provoked immediate outrage in the Republican-controlled legislature, where lawmakers said urgent action was necessary to protect the privacy of children and women and rein in local governments.
Other similar efforts around the country have already failed; South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, recently vetoed a bill that would have required students to use the bathroom that corresponded with their biological sex at birth. A similar bill in Tennessee died in committee this week.
The Georgia state legislature passed a measure earlier this month aimed at shoring up religious liberties, which gay-rights groups condemned as discriminatory. In a sign of the sort of opposition these types of bills are provoking, Disney threatened to stop making films in the state, cloud computer firm Salesforce.com warned it will move its business, and the National Football League suggested it may pass over Atlanta for future Super Bowls if the governor signs a bill interpreted to be discriminatory.
The company Dow Chemical on Wednesday tweeted its opposition to the North Carolina measure.
‘‘Dow opposes #NCGA attempt to undermine equality in Charlotte. Let’s focus on policies that make #NC stronger and more competitive. -- KK’’
McCrory explained why he signed the bill in a series of tweets late Wednesday.
‘‘I signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms.’’
‘‘Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.’’