RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina government and university officials were given until Monday to tell federal attorneys whether they would stop enforcing a new law blocking LGBT protections, particularly provisions requiring transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their biological sex.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said Sunday he will decide how to respond to the U.S. Justice Department by the deadline but sounds little interested in capitulating to the agency. Government attorneys contend the law approved by the state Legislature in March violates the federal Civil Rights Act.
The Justice Department is "trying to define gender identity, and there is no clear identification or definition of gender identify," McCrory said on "Fox News Sunday."
McCrory said he was not aware of any North Carolina cases of transgender people using their gender identity to access a restroom and molest someone, a fear frequently cited by the law's supporters as the main reason for its passage.
The governor said there was no comparison between civil rights laws that forbid racial discrimination and the Justice Department's claim that the federal law also protects transgender people.
"We can definitely define the race of people. It's very hard to define transgender or gender identity," McCrory said, adding his request for more time to respond to the Justice Department was denied.
McCrory has called the law is a common-sense measure designed to protect the privacy of people who use bathrooms and locker rooms and expect all people inside the facilities to be of the same gender. The governor has become the public face of the law called House Bill 2, which has been the subject of intense criticism by gay rights groups, corporate executives and entertainers who demand the law be repealed.
DOJ last week demanded McCrory, University of North Carolina leaders and the state's public safety agency to respond by Monday whether they intended to stop enforcing the law. Repealing the law also would satisfy the attorneys, but GOP lawmakers who run the General Assembly had no plans before to do so by the deadline. The legislature scheduled no recorded votes or substantive action during Monday's House and Senate sessions.
North Carolina has already paid a price for the law, with some business scaling back investments in the state and associations cancelling conventions. The costs to state government could be even more acute.
The 17-campus UNC system risks losing more than $1.4 billion in federal funds if they don't comply. Another $800 million in federally backed loans for students who attend the public universities also would be at risk if it's found that enforcing the law violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex. The letter to McCrory said the law also violates Title VII, which bars employment discrimination.
Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said late last week he is frustrated because "we have a federal administration that is so determined to push a radical social agenda that they would threaten" federal funding. "I just think the people should be frustrated and people should be angry."
UNC President Margaret Spellings, who started her job in March, has said while the university system is obligated to follow the law, it did not endorse the law. Spellings said later she hoped legislators would change the law, which could discourage promising faculty and students from coming to system campuses.
A response from UNC or McCrory considered unacceptable to DOJ could lead to litigation.
Civil liberties groups and several individuals already have sued to challenge the law, which also prevents local governments from passing rules giving protections to lesbians, gays and bisexual and transgender people while using public accomodations like restaurants and stores. The state law was designed to block an ordinance by the city council in Charlotte.