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North Carolina Overturns Law Banning Discrimination Against LGBT People


Earlier this week, North Carolina state legislature overturned a city ordinance in Charlotte that banned discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Our next guest says this is just the latest step in a trend of conservative state governments overriding an array of liberal local ordinances from LGBT rights to minimum wage increases to affordable housing. Kriston Capps writes for The Atlantic's CityLab. Welcome to the studio.

KRISTON CAPPS: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Tell us what happened in this case between Charlotte and the state legislature in North Carolina.

CAPPS: In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited business and restaurants and establishments from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Yesterday, the state legislature held an emergency session that essentially overturned this rule in Charlotte, but further, prohibited all cities from passing any such non-discrimination bans in the future.

CORNISH: How unusual is this?

CAPPS: It's becoming more and more usual all the time. North Carolina is, at the state level, behaving in an extreme way. This is one of the most extreme non-discrimination bans that we have seen so far. But it is certainly not the first time that states have stepped in to overrule what a city has decided to do in law.

CORNISH: Now, you're calling it extreme. But it really is a difference in politics, right? You have many, many state legislatures that have become more red, more Republican over the last few years. Democrats have lost ground in a lot of place. And now you have liberal cities - right? - liberal pockets that try and push their agenda forward.

Now, is this something that we see with mostly conservative state governments in liberal cities? I mean, what happens, say, in a place like California, right (laughter), where there might be relatively liberal state government and some towns and cities that are conservative?

CAPPS: The only major cities that currently have conservative mayors, if I recall correctly, are Jacksonville and Oklahoma City, and those are both in conservative states. This really is a fairly sharp partisan divide where liberal cities are operating in states with very Republican legislatures and Republican governors.

CORNISH: So you have this divide between state governments, where Republicans have gained a lot of ground, and cities, which many are traditionally liberal. What are the things these cities are trying to push? What are aspects of kind of the left agenda that have gained ground on the city level?

CAPPS: There's a few main categories that represent new best practice ideas that you've seen a lot of cities adopt - a $15 minimum wage or something close to it, certain environmental regulations, certain fair housing standards and regulations that prohibit businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of their gender or status.

CORNISH: And you're calling them best practices, but we know, in many cases, these state governments don't agree with that, right?

CAPPS: That's right. State governments not only do not agree with this, but they've come to see this as a power that cities should not have.

CORNISH: So then, how do the cities respond when they are slapped down by the state?

CAPPS: So far, their hands are tied. When Denton passed a fracking ban and Texas passed a law prohibiting Texas cities from passing fracking bans, Denton had to repeal the ban.

CORNISH: Is this a trend that you've seen accelerate with the partisan discord in Washington?

CAPPS: Yeah, that's right. I think when you have federal deadlock of the kind that we've had over the last several years, perhaps most of the Obama administration, then more and more power - more and more things actually happening are happening at this municipal level, where you don't have that kind of partisan divide. So cities are able to pass laws that actually affect people, that do certain - accomplish certain things in those cities.

CORNISH: That Kriston Capps. He writes for The Atlantic's CityLab. Thank you for coming in to speak with us.

CAPPS: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.