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White House: State Bathroom Bills Show 'Fight for Civil Rights Is Not Over

Rainbow-colored lights shine on the White House to celebrate today's US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the high court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

As federal agencies are taking aim at cutting funding to states that pass so-called "bathroom bills," White House press secretary Josh Earnest invoked the civil rights battles of past generations in states that passed or are considering a similar law.

“States like Tennessee and to a certain extent North Carolina and Mississippi have a long history — even over the last couple of generations — of working through questions of civil rights. President Obama has talked on a number of occasions about the important progress that our country has made with regard to civil rights,” Earnest said. “This is a good illustration that the fight for civil rights is not over.”

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The state laws allow private businesses to set their own policies for public restrooms, and restrict local government from passing anti-discrimination laws on public restroom use.

“Demanding equality for every American and ensuring those Americans are not singled out for targeting because of their sex or their race what their last name is or their religion or who they love or who they are is a struggle that continues,” Earnest said. “The president, every time, is going to be on the side of equality and fairness and justice for every American.”

States could face a multi-front problem in getting federal money for schools, highways and public housing.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, a former Charlotte mayor, first raised the prospect of yanking funds from North Carolina, the first state to pass a "bathroom bill." Meanwhile, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are also reportedly reviewing federal funding to North Carolina.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned that if Tennessee passed such a law, it could lose $1.2 billion in Title IX funding from the federal government.

Earnest said agencies are “doing this work in conjunction with the Department of Justice because there are important legal questions that have to be resolved.”

“Specific laws like this that seek to target and marginalize one small segment of the population is nothing less than mean-spirited,” Earnest said.

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