WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (REUTERS) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sided on Thursday with those criticising a controversial new North Carolina law requiring transgender people to use government and school bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.
Trump said the law was unnecessary and people should be allowed to use whichever bathroom feels appropriate.
"Leave it the way it is," he said during a town hall on NBC's Today show.
"There have been very few complaints the way it is," added Trump, who is front-runner to be the Republican presidential nominee in November's election.
Corporations, entertainers and activists are calling for a repeal of the measure signed into law last month by the state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory. State tourism and business groups say tens of millions of dollars in revenue have been lost as meetings have relocated, entertainers including Bruce Springsteen cancelled concerts and PayPal Holdings and Deutsche Bank halted or cancelled plans to add jobs in protest at the law.
"North Carolina did something (that) was very strong, and they're paying a big price," Trump said.
Trump's main rival for the Republican nomination, US Senator Ted Cruz, reiterated his support on Thursday for North Carolina's law, which invalidated an ordinance passed in Charlotte and is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.
"We shouldn't be facilitating putting little girls alone in a bathroom w/grown men," Cruz, who is a social conservative and the father of two young girls, said on Twitter. "That's just a bad, bad, bad idea."
North Carolina's law has been criticised for denying protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community beyond just the issue of bathroom access. McCrory has signalled a willingness to revise some aspects of the measure, but he and other top Republicans in the state are standing firm on the controversial bathroom provision.
McCrory is seeking re-election in November. His campaign has defended the provision saying it affects only bathrooms in public schools and government buildings, and private businesses are free to adopt their own bathroom policies.
Target Corp this week said transgender employees and customers could use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, becoming the first big retailer to weigh in on the debate that has captured national attention for weeks.
Responding to Trump's remarks, McCrory's campaign said the governor stood by his belief that boys and girls should be kept separate in bathroom and shower facilities in public schools. "It's just common sense," campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement.