North Carolina and the Justice Department announced dueling lawsuits Monday over the state’s “bathroom bill,” which has become the epicenter of a larger fight over transgender rights.
The two complaints, filed several hours apart, took opposing sides in the debate over the law, which bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates. While the state said its law does not discriminate against transgender people or treat transgender employees differently from non-transgender employees, the Justice Department’s civil rights office said the measure is discriminatory and violates civil rights.
“This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said during a news conference after the Justice Department’s lawsuit was filed. “This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them.”
The lawsuits escalate tensions over a law that has already resulted in boycotts of North Carolina by corporations and threats from the federal government that billions of dollars in annual funding could be withheld.
In his lawsuit Monday against the Justice Department, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) accused the federal government of “baseless and blatant overreach.”
The governor has repeatedly defended the state law, which he signed in March, as a necessary response to a Charlotte city ordinance that expanded civil rights protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
But Lynch on Monday linked the bill with a dark legacy that included Jim Crow laws and resistance to the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
“It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference,” Lynch, a North Carolina native, said during her unusually impassioned remarks.