A supposedly bipartisan deal to repeal North Carolina's anti-LGBT law collapsed Wednesday night in a raucous special session when both sides balked and started blaming each other.
After more than nine hours of backroom discussions and sporadic public effort, Republican state legislators quit trying to repeal the law called House Bill 2 and went home Wednesday night. The political gamesmanship likely means the Tar Heel State will keep being shunned by corporations, entertainers and high-profile sporting events.
"The North Carolina General Assembly is a national disgrace," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement sent to NBC OUT.
The law omits gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from state anti-discrimination protections, bars local governments from passing broad non-discrimination ordinances covering them, and orders transgender people to use bathrooms and showers that align with their sex at birth.
"I'm disappointed that we have yet to remove the stain from the reputation of our great state that is around this country and around the world," Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper said.
He said he and his staff worked for more than a week on forging an agreement to repeal the law, talking with lawmakers from both parties, businesses, sports industry representatives and LGBT leaders.
GOP legislators who see themselves as business-friendly appeared shaken by a months-long backlash as major companies like BASF, IBM and Bank of America described HB2 as bad for business. The anti-LGBTQ law also arguably cost the sitting governor his job.
The compromise touted by both Cooper and outgoing GOP Gov. Pat McCrory called for Charlotte to do away with its ordinance that opened up restrooms and locker rooms to transgender people and gave anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people. In exchange, the state would undo its law banning the city's law.
But many conservatives never wanted to repeal the law and GOP lawmakers cried foul when Charlotte leaders initially left part of the city's ordinance in place. When the Senate bill called for a six-month ban on cities passing similar anti-discrimination ordinances, like extending LGBT protections, Democrats said Republicans were going back on their promise.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said he wanted to give the state more time to figure out how to fully repeal the law and blamed Cooper and the Democratic-controlled Charlotte City Council for sinking the repeal effort.
Berger said Charlotte officials misled lawmakers into thinking they had fully repealed their ordinance Monday. The council met again Wednesday morning to scrap the rest of local law. But whatever good faith there was between the two sides appeared to have deteriorated.
"I'm sorry folks, I don't trust them, and our folks don't trust them. There's no reason to trust them," Berger said after his chamber adjourned.
Social conservatives defended the law's transgender bathroom requirement — which has no enforcement or punishment provisions — as necessary to prevent heterosexual predators from masquerading as transgender to molest women and girls when they are vulnerable.
"We continue to encourage our leaders to never sacrifice the privacy, safety, or freedom of young girls by forcing them to use the bathroom, shower, or change clothes with grown men just to satisfy the demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations, or angry mobs," North Carolina Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said in a statement.
The U.S. Justice Department and others contend the threat of sexual predators posing as transgender persons to enter a bathroom is practically nonexistent.
The issue of transgender bathroom use "wasn't a problem North Carolina was facing," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Legislators "should admit they messed up and repeal the bill. They seem to be still trying to figure out how to blame Charlotte, or blame Bruce Springsteen," who canceled a Greensboro show after the law passed.
"This harmful and discriminatory law has been a disaster for North Carolina, damaging both our economy and reputation on the national stage. Instead of showing that North Carolina is open for business, Republicans decided to play games and wasted our time and taxpayers' money," Cecil Brockman, an openly LGBTQ lawmaker in North Carolina's General Assembly, said.
National LGBTQ-rights organizations, national civil rights groups, multinational corporations and prominent LGBTQ advocates publicly expressed their disappointment to the state's failure to repeal HB2.
HB2 has been blasted by gay-rights groups and resulted in conventions, jobs and sporting events such as the NBA All-Star Game shunning North Carolina. Corporate critics of the law included Deutsche Bank and Paypal, which both backed out of projects that would have brought hundreds of jobs to the state.
"The NCAA's decision to withhold championships from North Carolina remains unchanged," spokesman Bob Williams said.
McCrory signed the law and became its national face. HB2, along with other right-leaning bills he signed, turned this fall's gubernatorial campaign into a referendum on the state's recent conservative slant. He lost by about 10,000 votes to Cooper. Meanwhile, fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and President-elect Donald Trump comfortably won the state.
McCrory, the first sitting North Carolina governor elected to a four-year term to lose re-election, echoed Republican accusations that "the left sabotaged bipartisan good faith agreements for political purposes."
Repealing the state law could also have ended protracted legal challenges by the federal Justice Department and transgender residents. Much of that litigation has been delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a separate Virginia case on transgender restroom access.