North Carolina Representative Robert Pittenger, a Republican, is facing criticism over comments interpreted as anti-gay at a recent town hall meeting.

Pittenger was asked whether or not he supports passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It's like smoking bans,” Pittenger answered. “Do you ban or do people have the right to private property? I think people have the right to private property. … If you have a business, do you want the government to come in and tell you you need to hire somebody? Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

The Charlotte Observer fired back in op-ed.

“Racial discrimination, we would argue, is also a matter of the heart, yet government intervention was essential to securing basic civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities,” the paper's editors wrote. “In the free market, many companies don’t discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender or other measures, but America has still seen fit to pass laws prohibiting it. Pittenger did not directly answer our question about whether a company also should be free to fire someone for being black.”

Pittenger defended his stance in a statement, suggesting that ENDA would hurt the economy.

“The statutes are clear, that Americans are well protected already,” he said. “We should fully enforce current laws against discrimination. I hear America's cry for more jobs and a stronger economy, not more federal regulations added to the vast maze of federal regulations we have already. That can only stifle the ability of entrepreneurs to create new businesses and new jobs. It's incredibly hard to operate or start a business already, and I don't think America is begging for more obstacles to an economic recovery. Where does it stop? Is the next regulation going to prohibit a layoff even during an economic downturn? Will the next law mandate full employment? Where does the government's role in dictating our daily lives end? That's the debate we should be having.”

North Carolina is one of the 29 states where employers are free to fire a worker solely based on his or her sexual orientation.