A week after a small city in Alabama passed its own bathroom ordinance that threatened violators with up to six months in jail, officials there backed away from the measure and recalled it during a meeting Wednesday.
While debates over “bathroom bills” restricting who can use public restrooms have cropped up across the country, spurred on by a high-profile measure in North Carolina, the ordinance in Oxford, Ala., appeared to take things a step further. The Human Rights Campaign said the ordinance was “unprecedented” for the criminal penalties it described.
Council members gathered Wednesday, however, to discuss recalling the measure. They voted to recall it shortly before 3 p.m. local time, according to reporters at the hearing and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Council has voted 3-2 to recall the ordinance.
— Zach Tyler (@ZTyler_Star) May 4, 2016
Last week, the Oxford City Council voted to adopt a measure making it a crime for people to use a public bathroom or changing facility different from the one on their birth certificate. People deemed to be violating the law could be punished with up to six months behind bars or a $500 fine.
This brought a sudden, bright spotlight to Oxford, a city an hour outside Birmingham with about 21,000 residents.
When the measure passed, Steven Waits, president of the city council, read from a statement saying that it had been proposed in response to Target’s announcement that customers and employees were allowed to use a bathroom or fitting room “that corresponds with their gender identity.” Oxford is home to a Target.
He had read from a statement saying that he received an “overwhelming” number of complaints about the store’s policy, according to the Anniston Star. Waits said the measure was needed “to protect our women and children.”
“The Oxford City Council did the right thing by recalling its discriminatory ordinance,” Chinyere Ezie, staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are pleased the council members came to the conclusion that nobody should be criminalized simply for using the restroom.”
The Anniston Star had reported Tuesday that the city council was planning to meet Wednesday to discuss potentially recalling the ordinance, and rights groups praised the council for considering such a move.
In a letter sent to the council on Wednesday morning, attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Alabama urged the council members to recall the ordinance, which they said “violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law” and “harms already marginalized transgender individuals.”
This measure also affected the privacy rights of the women and children the council members sought to protect, because they might have to carry birth certificates or be questioned and humiliated before using a bathroom, the letter stated.
The ordinance made an exception for adults working as custodians and first-responders, as well as for those accompanying children ages 11 and younger.
None of the five Oxford City Council members responded to requests for comment about potentially recalling the measure.
Last week, most of the council members did not respond to messages seeking comment after the measure was passed. In the week since the measure was approved and drew widespread scrutiny, all five council members removed their email addresses from the city’s website.
In the ordinance, exceptions were made for adults accompanying children age 11 and younger as well as those people working as custodians or first responders.
North Carolina’s bathroom law drew heated opposition from LGBT rights organizations and big businesses.
Two companies — Deutsche Bank and PayPal — have called off planned extensions due to the law, while the NBA says it will take its All-Star Game next season out of Charlotte unless the law is changed. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently said that the North Carolina measure and a law adopted recently in Mississippi jeopardize “the actual physical safety” of transgender people.
This post has been updated with the outcome of the hearing.