Congressman Robert Pittenger
But his remarks concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the workplace have sparked negative headlines and been called offensive by some advocacy groups.
At a Charlotte town hall earlier this month, Pittenger compared the firing of LGBT workers by private businesses to the right to smoke on private property.
“You need to respect the autonomy of somebody running their business,” he said, according to the left-leaning blog ThinkProgress.
But Jamie Bowers, Pittenger’s spokesman, said Pittenger was only asked about the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act, not about “firing gays.”
The proposed act, known as ENDA, is an effort to preserve job security for the LGBT community and was introduced most recently to Congress in April 2013.
“The ‘Firing gays: a freedom we enjoy’ line that has been repeated in a few sensationalized headlines is the creation of the media, not anything Congressman Pittenger ever said,” Bowers said.
Pittenger has defended his comments, saying in a statement that Americans are already protected in the workplace.
“We should fully enforce current laws against discrimination,” Pittenger said. “Where does it stop? Will the next law mandate full employment? Where does the government’s role in dictating our daily lives end?”
North Carolina is one of 29 states that does not prohibit employee discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mitch Kokai, policy analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said Pittenger’s comments are controversial because of the attention on LGBT rights nationally.
“He was trying to say that the government should not propose too many protections on private businesses,” he said.
But N.C. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said he disagreed with Pittenger’s remarks. Stein has been an advocate in the N.C. General Assembly for LGBT employee protections.
“Whom somebody loves should have absolutely no bearing on being hired,” he said.
Stein’s 2013 bill failed in the GOP-controlled legislature.
LGBT advocacy group Equality N.C. said in a statement that Pittenger’s comments reflect a pressing need to update state laws governing workplace equality.
“Pittenger’s discriminatory statements shed new light on a harsh reality for gay and lesbian North Carolinians,” said Jen Jones, spokeswoman for Equality N.C.
She said the group will push for changes to the state’s non-discrimination laws in 2015.