Raleigh, N.C. — Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh said Friday that a new state law that limits discrimination protections for gay and transgender people concerns him.
Burbidge hadn't spoken publicly previously on House Bill 2, although he issued a statement in February calling for state lawmakers to overturn a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The resulting House Bill 2 did that, but it also prohibits protections against discrimination for the LGBT community, prevents cities from setting their own minimum wage and eliminated the ability for workers to sue in state courts for job discrimination.
The bishop, whose diocese covers the eastern half of North Carolina, said he supports parts of the law but said the General Assembly needs to rework it.
"It's not meant to be bigoted," he said. "It's mean to create an environment the community thinks is appropriate, but obviously, there is some misconception and there's some misunderstanding and at least should be talked about.
"It is difficult, but I hope lawmakers will talk to each other and listen," he continued. "They can come up with something better, I think."
Several other faith leaders in North Carolina have called for a repeal of House Bill 2, including Jewish rabbis and bishops from the Episcopal and Methodist churches. Many evangelical ministers support the law.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory has until Monday evening to respond to a U.S. Department of Justice demand that the state come into compliance with federal civil rights laws.
The Justice Department on Wednesday said the bathroom provision of House Bill 2 violates the civil rights of state workers and students. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Friday that they were trying to determine if the law violates their nondiscrimination provisions.
The government's stance puts billions of dollars in federal aid to North Carolina in jeopardy.
McCrory could tell federal officials that he won't enforce the law, giving lawmakers time to reconsider it, although legislative leaders continue to stand behind it. Or the governor could say the state disagrees with the finding of discrimination, which would propel the case to court.
If the dispute goes to court, the Justice Department could seek an injunction to suspend the law until the case is over, which could take years.
Several law professors said Friday that the governor cannot completely fix the problem on his own – and state lawmakers don't seem to want to negotiate with the government.