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North Carolina Lawmakers Take Bold Stand In Fight Over Bathroom Law

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Neither North Carolina nor the U.S. Justice Department blinked today in their legal dispute in what's known has HB2. That's the state's new law that limits rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This battle is reminiscent of what happened in Indiana last year. It passed a bill to let businesses cite religion as a reason to refused services to LGBT customers. After a national outcry, Indiana amended that law.

SHAPIRO: In North Carolina, the outcry has been similar, but the state's response is very different. Michael Tomsic of member station WFAE explores why.

MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: In Indiana, expansions by Angie's List and Salesforce were put on hold, and the NCAA, Apple and other big companies expressed deep disappointment when the religious freedom law passed last year. Days after signing it, Republican Governor Mike Pence says it was not meant to be discriminatory.

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MIKE PENCE: But I can appreciate that that's become the perception not just here in Indiana but all across this country. And we need to confront that boldly in a way that respects the interests of all involved.

TOMSIC: Contrast that with how North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory has talked about PayPal, which canceled plans to bring 400 jobs to Charlotte. On "The John Boy And Billy Radio Show," McCrory had this to say about other places PayPal does business.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE JOHN BOY AND BILL RADIO SHOW")

PAT MCCRORY: And who do business in China...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Uh-huh, how's that?

MCCRORY: Not too good - and who do business in the Sudan. That's - you know, they cut your head off for being a gay and lesbian, and yet they can't do business in North Carolina. By the way...

TOMSIC: The difference between North Carolina and Indiana has been about more than tone. For one, there's the timing. Indiana amended its law less than a week after it passed. And before doing so, Indiana University law professor Steve Sanders says there were months of building momentum.

STEVE SANDERS: Both opponents and supporters and were certainly aware of it and mobilizing and testifying and organizing letters to the editor and so forth.

TOMSIC: Two days after Governor Pence signed it, thousands rallied out front of the legislature. Two days after North Carolina passed its controversial law, many were still sorting through what was in it. In fact, Governor McCrory felt the need to clarify North Carolina's law three weeks later.

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MCCRORY: Based on this feedback, I am taking action to affirm the state's commitment to privacy and equality.

TOMSIC: Which gets to another difference - the laws themselves. Indiana's was about whether businesses had to serve LGBT customers. North Carolina's excludes LGBT people from the state's list of protected classes and requires transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth certificate.

For all the outcry, some North Carolina lawmakers just don't think the actual impact will be that big. Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania agrees.

MAURICE SCHWEITZER: Overall, I don't see of a very dramatic impact on North Carolina economy.

TOMSIC: Schweitzer says tech companies are most sensitive because they're fairly mobile. He says car manufacturers and other industrial giants are much less likely to pick up and leave.

Also, tech companies tend to go for big cities, and rural Republicans hold more power in the North Carolina Legislature than in Indiana. Michael Bitzer is a political scientist at Catawba College.

MICHAEL BITZER: They really don't have to be concerned about when urban areas get hit - for example, Charlotte - with PayPal. Their rural areas are not impacted by those decisions.

TOMSIC: Another difference between the states is that in North Carolina, the federal government is suing. A powerful Republican lawmaker says, you picked the wrong state to start this fight with. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.