Social conservatives, pivoting from a series of setbacks on the national stage, are taking a more targeted, local approach to religious and individual privacy rights.
In North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and other states where Republicans have comparative strength, they have introduced proposals they say are intended to protect religious freedom, as well as bills governing the use of public bathrooms by transgender people.
Now, those efforts face challenges that are more than just political, but also economic, as alliances between Republicans and business leaders in many state capitols begin to fray over proposals regarding gay, lesbian and transgender rights.
Companies including Dow Chemical Co. and Deutsche Bank AG are wading into these issues, citing concerns that the laws remove antibias protections for LGBT people and could harm the firms’ ability to recruit top talent.
North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday he will seek a narrow modification to the new state law that limits antidiscrimination protections for LGBT people, in an attempt to “affirm and improve” the state’s commitment to equality. He proposed asking state lawmakers to reinstate the right to sue in state court for discrimination. His critics say his executive order doesn’t go far enough.
Mr. McCrory, who faces a tight race for re-election this year, faced the loss of at least 650 jobs from two companies that canceled expansion plans in the state in reaction to the law, known as the bathroom bill, which requires people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
After some Deutsche Bank employees based in North Carolina raised concerns about the law, Deutsche executives decided to freeze plans to add 250 positions to the bank’s operations in Cary, a Raleigh suburb. PayPal Holdings Inc. previously scrapped plans for a 400-employee expansion in Charlotte, and officials from more than 100 other companies, including Apple Inc., have objected to the law.
Social conservatives haven’t always been successful in their new wave of legislative pushback. Two weeks ago, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that was motivated in part by last year’s Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage amid threats that film and TV production companies would leave his state.
More broadly, however, social conservatives believe their former silent majority is transforming into a vocal minority that is now pressing its case on specific concerns, from school prayer to homosexuality and transgender issues.
“There’s the sense on the part of social conservatives that we need protections of our liberty as dissenters,” said Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at National Review and a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. “That’s opposed to the previous view, which has been that they were in the majority.”
The change has been swift.
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