Legislation such as the bill proposed in the Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday has fueled a national debate, with states entrenched on either side of the issue and major companies calling for a rollback on measures restricting transgender rights.
The South Carolina measure would prohibit local governments from requiring private businesses to provide restroom access based on gender identity rather than birth gender.
“Men should use the men’s room, and women should use the women’s room – that’s just common sense,” Republican Senator Lee Bright, a sponsor of the bill, told The State newspaper. “North Carolina is getting so much flak over what is common sense.”
The South Carolina measure is narrower than North Carolina’s law, which precludes local governments from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances with protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
But opponents warned the new proposal could spark the economic backlash seen this week in North Carolina, where PayPal Holdings Inc cited the discriminatory nature of the law in canceling a new operations center that was to employ 400 workers in Charlotte.
More than 130 business leaders, including the chief executives of Bank of America, Herbalife and American Airlines, have signed a letter with the Human Rights Campaign calling for a repeal.
“Government simply has no place in our bathrooms,” said Jeff Ayers, executive director of South Carolina Equality, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed two executive orders on Thursday aimed at safeguarding the rights of transgender people. One of them bans the state from discriminating against any employee or job applicant based on a host of criteria including “gender expression or identity.”
“This is the right thing to do. … This is also the smart thing to do,” Wolf said, citing PayPal’s decision in North Carolina.
Last year, the Democratic governor named a transgender woman as the state’s physician general, a Cabinet-level post.
More than a dozen states have considered bathroom provisions this year that would restrict access for transgender people, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The measures come amid a wave of legislation pushed by social conservatives after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last year.
Mississippi’s Republican governor on Tuesday signed a law allowing people with religious objections to deny wedding services to same-sex couples and permitting employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.
In response, a number of governors and mayors have banned non-essential government travel to Mississippi or North Carolina.
Last week, the governors of Georgia and Virginia vetoed “religious liberty” bills, which critics said discriminated against same-sex couples.