Nation

N.C. attorney general refuses to defend LGBT law

People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
Emery P. Dalesio/AP
People protested outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion last week in Raleigh as state legislators passed a law that prevents local governments from approving protections for LGBT people.

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s new law limiting
LGBT protections is a ‘‘national embarrassment,’’ and the state’s lawyers won’t defend it against a federal challenge from gay rights advocates, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.

The law Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed last week requires people to use multi-stall bathrooms that match their birth certificates at state agencies, schools, and universities, even if that means forcing transgender people with beards to use women’s rooms and putting people with feminine appearances in men’s rooms.

The law also makes clear that local measures can’t protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, or require businesses to provide higher minimum wages or paid sick leave. And it blocks workers from suing in state courts over workplace discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap, directing complaints instead to a state commission.

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‘‘Not only is this new law a national embarrassment, it will set North Carolina’s economy back if we don’t repeal it,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘We know that businesses here and all over the country have taken a strong stance in opposition to this law.’’

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Cooper’s announcement raises the stakes as the Democrat tries to unseat McCrory this November. National Democrats consider it their best opportunity to move a Republican out of a governor’s mansion. The campaigns of McCrory and Cooper already have raised more than $13 million combined, and the Republican Governors Association has reserved $4 million in ad time for the fall.

McCrory, a defendant in the federal lawsuit, has doubled down on justifying his signature.

The governor didn’t immediately respond to Cooper’s decision, but a social conservative group said Tuesday that more than 300 business owners have signed on a letter thanking the governor and the legislature. On Monday, McCrory said he has ‘‘not had one corporation tell me that they’re threatening to leave.’’

Senate leader Phil Berger said Tuesday that Cooper should resign as attorney general for failing to defend the law, and accused him of pandering to left-wing backers as he runs for governor.

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‘‘I’m doing my job and will continue to do my job,’’ Cooper responded, noting that the new law conflicts with policies in his office and the state treasurer’s office protecting employees from discrimination based on things such as sexual orientation and marital status.

‘‘Employees who get the job done here should be welcome without fear of discrimination,’’ he said. ‘‘Therefore our office will not represent the defendants in this lawsuit nor future lawsuits involving the constitutionality’’ of the law, he added.

The federal challenge also names the attorney general as a defendant because Cooper is the state’s top lawyer. But Cooper said he will seek to remove himself from the case, and he assumes McCrory would bring in his own counsel to defend the law.

The Republican-led legislature and McCrory approved the law in a one-day special session to prevent a Charlotte ordinance from taking effect April 1 and protecting transgender people who use restrooms aligned with their gender identities.