The latest frontier in America’s civil rights battle: Restrooms

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from CBS Sunday Morning,

A delicate constitutional question flared up this past week: Do transgender people have the right to use the restroom they feel is right?

“This is about the dignity and the respect that we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them — indeed, to protect all of us,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Joaquin Carcano wants that protection. The 27-year old activist living in Raleigh, North Carolina, was born a girl. Last year he transitioned into what he believes is his proper gender: a man.

He sees himself at war with his own state.

“As trans individuals, for me personally, there’s always a fear that you carry with you, and so that is a part of it definitely, but that goes for any sort of space you navigate in,” Carcano said. “But I’ve never had an issue going into a restroom, [or] coming out.”

“And what message in this law was the governor and the legislature do you think sending to you?” asked Strassmann.

“That we’re not welcome,” Carcano replied, “that they don’t want to believe we exist. North Carolina is sending the message that we are not in a welcoming area.”

But the law’s supporters insist it was enacted to protect women and girls — both their privacy, and their risk of attack from sexual predators.

“Our nation is dealing with a very new, complex and emotional issue: how to balance the expectations of privacy and equality,” said North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

“We believe a court, rather than a federal agency, should tell our state, our nation and employers across the country what the law requires,” he said.

In many ways, this battle is the latest chapter in a story that has its roots in the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell decision last June, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry.

Just since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in 34 states have proposed so-called “bathroom” bills and “religious freedom” laws that, critics say, target gay, lesbian and transgender people.

These state actions descend from a little-known bipartisan bill signed into law by President Clinton back in 1993: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA prohibited the government from unduly interfering in the way Americans express religious beliefs.

Marci Hamilton, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that RFRA, in effect, granted a license to discriminate.

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