So we've reached the point in the transgender bathroom debate that every presidential candidate is expected to weigh in on the controversy. It might want to make a person want to throw up his or her hands, but given that there are a whole host of state-level laws being considered, and the Department of Justice is successfully getting courts to buy into the idea that transgender people are protected by federal laws that cover sex discrimination, it's a culture war battle that has policy implications.
And that, like a flower turning to face the sun, leads us to Donald Trump. Trump has weighed in on North Carolina's transgender bathroom law, and thinks it's a bad idea. He thinks transgender people should just use whatever bathroom they want. Via Politico (covering his appearance on Today):
"There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate," Trump said. "There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic—I mean, the economic punishment that they're taking."
Matt Lauer then asked whether Trump has any transgender people working for his company.
"I really don't know. I probably do. I really don't know," Trump said, answering that he would allow, say, transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner to use whatever bathroom she wanted at Trump Tower.
It is a little odd (but very Trump) that the reaction from businesses—who, as a reminder, will still be able to set their own bathroom policies under the North Carolina law—is what's important when deciding whether the law was good or bad. But good on him for noting that people have been dealing with sharing the bathroom with transgender folks for some time now without incident.
Sen. Ted Cruz has been open and vocally taking the side of the bathroom panic crowd, unsurprising since he has been rallying for the religious conservative vote from the very start. He previously said "men should not be going to the bathroom with little girls," and repeated that sentiment today in an interview with Glenn Beck. He probably thinks this is all an example of Trump's "New York values."
Gov. John Kasich has been his paternalistic, condescending self, looking down on the whole thing and talking about it such a way that, even though he probably takes the most libertarian position—questioning whether we actually need new laws to solve this problem—he is essentially telling people to shut up and do what they're told. He says he would not have signed North Carolina's bill into law. Via the Advocate:
"In our state, we're not facing this, so everybody needs to take a deep breath, respect one another, and the minute we start trying to write laws, things become more polarized, things — they become more complicated," he continued. "Obviously I don't want to force people to violate their deeply held religious convictions, but we'd have to see what that's all about. I wouldn't have signed that law from everything I know; I haven't studied it."
At the clip's end, Kasich appeared frustrated with the proliferation of new laws, whether they be aimed at protecting so-called religious freedom or otherwise settling arguments in the public sphere.
"Why do we have to write a law every time we turn around in this country?" Kasich asked. "Can we figure out just how to get along a little bit better and respect one another? I mean, that's where I think we ought to be. Everybody, chill out and get over it if you have a disagreement with somebody."
When I read quotes like that it makes me wonder how the heck Kasich got the reputation for being the policy-driven candidate, or the mature one, or the "grown up." He actually seems to have very little interest in crafting policy. His awful response to surveillance issues and tech encryption was to get a bunch of people into back rooms to secretly hash out how much privacy Americans should be permitted without us (and I guess, Congress?) getting a say in the matter. Also, he wants to blow up the world.
And he's all over the map on these issues. He says "everybody, chill out," but also has said that bakers should just make gay couples their wedding cakes. But he doesn't think people should sue over being denied them. He just wants people to shut up about the whole thing, which is a perfectly fine attitude for, say, your dad, but the Department of Justice is intervening and attempting to force certain outcomes through the courts. The next president's administration will be playing a role in whatever this leads to. And It's easy to say "chill out and get over it" when you're not the one being sued, threatened with arrest, or having your business threatened.
On the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have spoken out in opposition to laws that tell transgender people that they have to use the bathrooms of their birth sex. Sanders said he would do everything in this power to try to overturn these laws, which I imagine means he would push the Department of Justice to continue its legal interventions using the federal civil rights laws. Clinton's platform on LGBT issues calls on using federal engagement to fix any and all ills.
I'm still inclined to believe that LGBT issues will not be playing a major public role in this general election. But given the high unfavorables for the frontrunner candidates right now, these issues may be used by both sides—especially if the GOP candidate is Cruz—in "get out the vote" drives.