We are now in that period called March Madness, when basketball teams fight their way through a three-week tournament to determine an NCAA national champion.
For college basketball fans in 49 states, this is surely the best time of the year.
For fans in North Carolina, it’s not such a great time. The Tar Heel State normally plays host to several tournament games and has two universities, Duke and North Carolina, that perennially challenge for the Final Four.
This year, however, there are no tournament games in North Carolina. The early round that had been scheduled for Greensboro, N.C., was moved to Greenville, S.C. It could be years before the NCAA ever schedules another basketball tournament game in the state.
The NCAA snub is part of the price North Carolina is paying for last year’s passage of HB 2, a law that eliminates anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and prohibits transgender persons from using public bathrooms they prefer.
This law has cost North Carolina the opportunity to host NCAA tournament games, the NBA All-Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship game, among other athletic and cultural events.
The law has also resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for the state’s economy from businesses that refused to expand or locate in North Carolina.
Even Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, a well-known Republican, has called the law “a stupid thing.”
“It would be nice if our state got as smart and also would host not just basketball tournaments but concerts and other NCAA events,” Krzyzewski said. “But maybe we’ll get there in the next century, I don’t know, we’ll see.”
The disaster in North Carolina is the latest reminder of how Georgia took the right path on this issue. A few weeks after the Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 2 last year, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a “religious freedom” bill, HB 757, that also could have discriminated against LGBT people.
“If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution,” Deal said in his veto message. “When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”
Deal did the right thing while his counterpart in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory, did not. McCrory’s backing of HB 2 not only resulted in the loss of businesses and special events, it also resulted in the loss of his own job when Democrat Roy Cooper defeated him in the governor’s race.
As we entered this year’s legislative session, both Deal and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston sent signals that they didn’t want to deal with the controversial issue anymore.
“I’m not sure we want to model ourselves after North Carolina and Indiana and some other states like that,” Ralston said. “I’m not going to devote a lot of energy to that this session because it’s taken too much, frankly.”
Only one religious freedom bill was introduced this session, from Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone.
Deal said: “I didn’t want there to be any confusion about where I stand on the RFRA (religious freedom) bill: I have no desire or appetite to entertain that legislation.”
Harbin’s bill was sent to committee, but it did not receive a hearing.
It looked like the religious freedom issue had finally been put to rest, but some legislators are evidently determined to repeat North Carolina’s mistake.
Late last week, a Senate committee was considering a bill that would revise the state’s adoption code. Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, amended the bill so that it would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place a child with same-sex couples. The Republicans on the committee approved the bill, which means it could move to a vote by the full Senate.
As the legislative session heads into its final days, Georgia lawmakers once again face the question of whether they will pass a law that legalizes discrimination against LGBT persons.
The events in North Carolina should have been a clear lesson to everyone. It appears that some people still refuse to learn that lesson.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.