By Scott Malone
(Reuters) - State legislators in New Hampshire narrowly blocked a bill on Thursday that would have prohibited discrimination against transgender people, including allowing them to use the public bathrooms that match the gender with which they identify.
Transgender rights are a politically charged issue in the United States. Supporters say bills like the one blocked on Thursday protect people who do not conform to their birth gender, while opponents say they could give cover to voyeurs and sexual predators.
The 187-179 vote by the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives to table the bill without debate came one day after Governor Chris Sununu, also a Republican, said he had no position on the matter.
Many Democrats had supported the bill.
"With Sununu's support, the bill, which was tabled by a slim margin, would be on its way to the corner office," said Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "His silence and apathy are a tacit endorsement of discrimination, and he will have to live with the fact that he denied many transgender people the freedom that is granted through equality under the law."
A spokesman for Sununu whose father, John Sununu, was a New Hampshire governor and later White House chief of staff in the first Bush administration, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This was the latest in a string of defeats for transgender rights this week. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after President Donald Trump rescinded a policy put in place last year protecting such youths.
A Texas Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would require people to use public restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.
That measure is similar to one passed last year in North Carolina, which sparked boycotts that are estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Due to economic concerns, analysts do not expect the Texas measure to pass the state House.
Despite their dominance in New Hampshire's government, Republicans in the state legislature do not unanimously support the party's national agenda. Last month state legislators blocked a bill that would have allowed employees in union-represented jobs not to pay dues.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)