State legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory set a house on fire March 23 when they enacted House Bill 2. Now, more than three months later, they’re thinking about turning on a garden hose ... but they still can’t decide which part of the blaze to put out.

Any attempt to douse the flames likely will be too little, too late anyway. Certainly, the draft bill that emerged this week — reportedly one of several circulating secretly through the legislative building — amounted to no more than a trickle of goodwill, insufficient to cool off an inferno of ignorance and bigotry.

At least this version acknowledged the hypocrisy of HB 2, which the governor and others said was needed to protect “safety” and “privacy” in public restrooms but included no enforcement provisions or penalties. The new draft added tougher punishment for any felonies committed — not that anyone could cite such instances occurring in North Carolina.

It still would require people to use facilities corresponding to their “biological sex,” but with an update: One could verify his or her gender by producing a birth certificate or a new “North Carolina-issued certificate of sex reassignment.” This apparently would create a new state office of sex-reassignment inspection to grant the appropriate certificate if the applicant demonstrated the correct surgical alterations. As if North Carolina isn’t enough of a national laughingstock.

Yet, HB 2 isn’t a joke. In the past three months, the state has lost a significant amount of business and even more damage to its reputation. Corporate America has decided that discrimination and intolerance hurt the bottom line. Now North Carolina is learning the same hard lesson. Yet the governor and legislative leaders have fanned the flames, blaming Charlotte for passing a nondiscrimination ordinance, entertainers and corporations for “hypocrisy,” the media for misrepresenting the “facts,” political opponents for opportunism — everyone but themselves for igniting this conflagration.

Some are finding the heat uncomfortable but think spraying a little water here and there will quench the flames. It won’t. Others, the firebrands, seem to like watching the house burn down. So there’s a chance that no relief is coming as the legislative session nears its end.

HB 2 should be repealed, not just watered down. It prevents local governments from enacting nondiscrimination ordinances or raising the minimum wage within their jurisdictions. It prohibits anyone from filing discrimination complaints in state courts. It sets a statewide nondiscrimination standard that excludes gays and lesbians from protection. And then there’s the bathroom part aimed at the transgender population.

This is a small, mostly hidden part of our society consisting of people who were born into one gender, or perhaps with ambiguous gender, and live as another gender. Sometimes they use public restrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify — and no one knows. They aren’t sexual predators. If they do commit crimes, they can and should be dealt with as anyone else would be under the law.

Then came HB 2, setting a statewide bathroom policy, justified by manufactured fears of men showering with little girls or posing as women to get away with rape or other sex crimes. These scare tactics were meant to excite voters, not protect anyone. It was political pyromania, and it should be doused.

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