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Georgia Governor to Veto 'Religious Freedom' Law as N.C. Is Sued for LGBT Bias

The moves came amid growing pressure from corporations to avoid curbing LGBT protections.
Image: Nathan Deal veto
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announces his veto of a "religious freedom" bill. David Goldman / AP

The backlash against efforts to weaken anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people took sharp turns on Monday, when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced he will veto a controversial religious freedom bill and activists sued North Carolina's governor over a law that blocked cities from passing their own protections.

Gov. Deal's decision came amid rising pressure from companies that work and hold events in Georgia, including Hollywood figures and the NFL, to avoid signing a law that would have allowed businesses and clergy to refuse services to people based on their religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The bill's opponents include Comcast and NBCUniversal, parent companies of NBC News.

Image: Nathan Deal
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal gestures while delivering his State of the State Address at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)David Goldman / AP

Deal said he knew of no instances in which the conflicts that the bill seeks to prevent had actually taken place. And he said he was concerned that the bill would feed discrimination, even if unintentionally.

"That is too great a risk to take," he said in a statement.

Related: Corporate Boycotts Become Key Weapon in Gay Rights Fight

While the governor was speaking, a coalition of civil rights groups held a press conference in North Carolina to announce they were suing Gov. Pat McCrory, who on Wednesday signed a hastily passed law that blocked the city of Charlotte's attempt to extend LGBT protections, including the freedom for transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice.

The bathroom provision drove Republican state lawmakers and McCrory to call a special legislative session to block the Charlotte ordinance before it went into effect. They argued that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that matched their chosen gender would violate others' privacy and put women and girls at risk of being preyed upon by male sexual predators. The bill also required public school and university students to use bathrooms associated with the gender on their birth certificates.

But the North Carolina lawmakers moved beyond just the bathroom issue, voting to block all local governments from passing ordinances that prohibit discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation and gender identity. McCrory, a Republican and former Charlotte mayor who is running for re-election, said Charlotte overstepped its authority.

Related: A Rushed Vote Draws North Carolina Into National Fight Over LGBT Rights

In an interview Monday afternoon with NBC News, McCrory said he was the target of a coordinated campaign by left-wing groups aimed to demonize him.

He defended the law as "a common sense piece of legislation" that protects people's privacy, and leaves it up to individual businesses and agencies — but not public schools and universities — to set bathroom policies. He argued that no companies were actually leaving North Carolina because of it.

The law, he said, aims to keep in place traditional norms and etiquette.

"This is political correctness run amok," he said.

The fights in Georgia and North Carolina are the newest fronts in a widening battle over LGBT rights, pitting conservative lawmakers against advocates and the federal government in the wake of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said same-sex marriage was legal. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a restrictive bathroom bill earlier this month.

The North Carolina lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of two transgender people and one lesbian, accuses McCrory of sex discrimination, saying the law violated constitutional freedoms of equal protection and due process — and a federal law against discrimination in educational institutions.

"We are only searching for a safe space in this world, and our home in North Carolina should be one of them," said one of the plaintiffs, Joaquin Carcano, 27, who works as an HIV project manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Carcano, sporting facial stubble, said in an interview later that he uses men's bathrooms but would have to start using women's rooms under the new law.

"I go into a restroom and someone's in there that maybe doesn't support me or my gender identity, that allows them to discriminate against me and who knows what kind of violence that could subject us to as trans members," he said.

Since McCrory's signing of the law, a wide array of corporations have stated their opposition to it, including many of the state's biggest employers. The NCAA said it would monitor the case in deciding where to hold future basketball tournament games. And the NBA suggested that the new law could impact its decision to hold the All-Star Game in Charlotte next year.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, one of the organizations that filed in the lawsuit, said Deal's veto of a less sweeping measure in Georgia, which is considered a more conservative state, showed how ill-considered North Carolina's law was. He said he hoped that lawmakers would decide to repeal the law later this spring.

"They made a really huge mistake here and they are going to have to fix it," Sgro said.