North Carolina is learning: Gay rights are not optional in an advanced economy

North Carolina is supposed to be the heart of the new South. The state’s economy is no longer all about tobacco and textiles. It’s a big player in financial services and high-tech, and it wants to keep adding high-skill, high-wage jobs in those sectors.

But there’s an issue: A lot of lawmakers and voters in North Carolina have a problem with the gay stuff.

As in many states in the South, sodomy was actually illegal in North Carolina until 13 years ago, when the Supreme Court overturned such laws. State voters passed a gay marriage ban with 61% of the vote in 2012.

The global power centres in high-tech and financial services are places where it is socially unacceptable to not be cool with the gay stuff. New York. San Francisco. Frankfurt. Pro-gay rights norms are strong in these industries, both imposed from the C-suite and expected by workers.

So it was probably inevitable that North Carolina would be put in the position of choosing between its business stuff and its problem with the gay stuff, as we’ve seen with today’s announcement that Deutsche Bank has canceled plans to add 250 high-paying financial services jobs in the state.

Deustche did that because in March, the state hastily enacted a law that prohibits local governments from protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations. The state did this because Charlotte (not coincidentally the heart of North Carolina’s financial industry) had passed an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people.

Republican state lawmakers have hysterically characterised their law overturning Charlotte’s ordinance as being about bathrooms — that is, the law was needed to stop the supposed threat of men using the guise of transgenderism to enter women’s restrooms in Charlotte and watch women pee.

Maybe bathroom panic will fly with some bigoted or ignorant voters who fear trans people. But this isn’t just a matter of the anti-LGBT preferences of North Carolina voters. Besides Deusche Bank, PayPal also canceled plans to add hundreds of new, high-paying jobs in the state because of the law. The state may also lose next year’s NBA All-Star Game, currently planned for Charlotte.

There’s been a lot of talk in this presidential campaign about the problems wrought by global economic integration — not all of it unreasonable. There have been real, negative job impacts from global-manufacturing trade in certain parts of the US. But one advantage of global economic integration is that the most economically productive places tend, on average, to have the most enlightened social ideas.

In this case, global economic integration is furthering the export of good ideas like LGBT equality from places like San Francisco and Frankfurt to places like North Carolina.

This probably seems terribly unfair to a lot of social conservatives. Who are these German bankers to tell North Carolina what kind of laws to have? Besides, they say, this law isn’t anti-gay. It’s about individual rights and the freedom to run your own business in whatever pro-gay or anti-gay way you see fit — social conservatives just want the law to stop us from oppressing them.

To that, I would say this.

Not long ago, social conservatives wanted to use the power of the law to punish non-normative sexuality. Really not long ago: Gay sex was illegal in North Carolina in this century. Only since public opinion and the Supreme Court have moved in the direction of gay rights have the goals of social conservatives have gotten smaller and supposedly focused around individual rights.

Well, if individual rights are the new goal, where’s the “I’m sorry I made your sex life illegal”? Where is “I’m sorry I tried to deny you equal marriage under the law, as a separate matter from my feelings or my organisation’s principles”?

We’re not hearing that because they’re not sorry.

The new “opt-out” anti-gay agenda is just about expanding the zone of oppression as far as the current political environment will allow. The underlying principles, the ones that formerly led these same people to feel gay sex should be a crime, remain the same. There is no reason to assume their arguments about individual rights and “freedom” are in good faith.

And s0, to the German bankers standing up against that, I say danke schön. Deutsche Bank is just another participant in the long tradition of outsiders dragging the South, kicking and screaming, toward equal treatment of minority groups.

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