The Bathroom War Between the States

The Civil War started in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. At the time, the South called it the "War Between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America," now shortened to the "War Between the States." A few here in Charleston still call it the "War of Northern Aggression."

While there hasn't been another actual war, there have been competitions between North and South Carolina since I moved to South Carolina in 1976 to teach at the College of Charleston. North Carolina has usually fared better, and I'm not referring just to sports teams. South Carolina has no equivalent to the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill Research Triangle, with outstanding academic universities like North Carolina State, Duke, and the University of North Carolina. Educational opportunities and quality of life have long seemed better in North Carolina. Some in South Carolina half-jokingly told me that the difference between North and South Carolina is the difference between culture and agriculture.

However, the culture, especially in Charleston, has improved significantly, making the city a top tourist attraction. There's more interest and talk in South Carolina about how best to improve education and race relations, though words and ideas need to be put into action along with financial priorities for these issues. In some ways, South Carolina has become better than North Carolina. I'd like to say that's good news, but it's actually bad news, because North Carolina has recently gotten worse in ways that South Carolina hasn't, at least not yet.

North Carolina approved a law
blocking local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules that grant protections to gay and transgender people. This is a solution searching for a problem. There are zero recorded instances of harassment by transgender people in bathrooms. However, because there are at least three recorded instances of Republican politicians being arrested for lewd behavior in public restrooms, perhaps we should bar male Republican politicians from using public restrooms.

If family-values, Bible-thumping politicians don't want to treat people fairly on moral grounds, then perhaps they could be persuaded on economic grounds. North Carolina lost revenue when Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert and companies like PayPal pulled out of projects. But my favorite protest comes from the porn site X-hamster, which decided to block its website from North Carolinians and replace it with a petition to repeal the law. A spokesperson for X-Hamster said, "Judging by the stats of what you North Carolinians watch, we feel this punishment is a severe one. We will not stand by and pump revenue into a system that promotes this type of garbage. We respect all sexualities and embrace them." (Note to my wife: I hadn't visited the site before reading about the issue here.)

Just when I thought it was safe to live in South Carolina, along comes proposed legislation from a South Carolina senator ironically named Lee Bright (R), who is known for his attempts to bring bad legislation passed in other states to South Carolina. Bright introduced the North Carolina bathroom bill in the South Carolina legislature, saying, "I want to stand with North Carolina ... for showing some decency and common sense." When asked about the economic fallout caused by companies like PayPal, Bright argued, "Apparently PayPal has shown its support for pedophiles by wanting them to go into bathrooms." Even though this legislation hasn't yet passed in South Carolina (and I hope it never will), there is already economic fallout. An $830 million corporation is pulling out of South Carolina over the proposed anti-LGBT bill.

Sen. Lee Bright has consistently been extreme, even for South Carolina. For very different reasons, Bright and I opposed an abortion bill that would have banned abortions in South Carolina after twenty weeks. Bright filibustered and killed the bill because it included exemptions for victims of rape and incest. He is on the Board of Visitors for the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that embraces the Danvers Statement, whose core beliefs include a view that "wives should forsake resistance to their husbands' authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands' leadership."

To riff off Winston Churchill's quip, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others," I think South Carolina's Nikki Haley is the worst Republican southern governor, except for all the others. (She opposes expanding Medicaid, and for years had opposed taking down the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds until the massacre last June of nine African Americans in a Charleston church.) To Haley's credit when asked about Bright's bathroom bill, she said, "I don't believe it's necessary."

Despite the church murders, Sen. Bright pushed a petition to keep the Confederate flag on state grounds. There have been many problems with abusive husbands in South Carolina, but Bright had an incredible take on abusive husbands as he summed up the Civil War: "The North was an abusive husband the South wanted to leave."

Even so, some South Carolina groups consider Lee Bright too moderate. It is no surprise that the South Carolina Secessionist Party plans to raise the Confederate flag during a rally at the state capitol on July 10, the first anniversary of the flag's controversial removal. However, the Secessionist Party just celebrated the 151st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, calling April 14 "a true southern holiday" as it marked the date "the greatest American dictator was shot."

I know what you might be thinking, but I'm not making this up.