Metro Weekly

Louisiana governor issues “religious freedom” executive order

Bobby Jindal by Gage Skidmore

Bobby Jindal by Gage Skidmore

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took matters into his own hands on Tuesday and issued an executive order that would allow discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of “religious freedom” after the Louisiana State Legislature failed to act on a similar piece of legislation earlier in the day.

The Louisiana House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, where Republicans enjoy an 8-7 edge, voted 10-2 on Tuesday to reject HB 707, known as the Marriage and Conscience Act, which sought to carve out exemptions for people who oppose homosexuality in general or same-sex marriage specifically.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) would have prohibited the state or its agents from denying tax exemptions or credits, grants, contracts, certification or accreditation from a person or business who refuses to provide services to LGBT people if doing so would violate their moral or religious beliefs with respect to homosexuality or same-sex marriage. It would also have protected any individual or business from being sued or held liable because of their refusal to provide such services.

After saying he was “disappointed” in the legislature’s failure to move the bill to his desk, Jindal quickly announced plans to issue an executive order, that, though more narrowly tailored than the House bill, would implement the bulk of so-called conscience protections for those who object to same-sex marriage. When issuing the order, Jindal said that it would provide needed protections for the people of Louisiana, while also insisting that the order does not condone discrimination. The order went into effect immediately and will remain in effect until 60 days after the end of the next legislative session in 2016. A new governor, who will be elected in November, could choose to repeal it upon taking office next January, leave it in place, or issue their own similar executive order. 

“This is even bigger than marriage,” Jindal was quoted as saying by the The Times-Picayune. “It’s the right to live your lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to your sincerely held religious beliefs.”

But many political observers are skeptical of Jindal’s motives. The two-term governor on Monday announced he was forming an exploratory committee looking at a potential bid for the presidency, and a Jindal-associated group, the American Future Project, is currently running an ad in early presidential caucus state Iowa specifically touting his support for laws protecting people’s freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

By issuing his executive order, Jindal treads where many of his fellow Republican governors will not, in light of blowback from pro-LGBT forces and the business community that befell states like Indiana and Arkansas after they attempted to pass legislation that was seen as condoning discrimination against LGBT people. Coupled with his support for a national constitutional amendment that would allow individual states to continue to ban same-sex marriages, he cements himself as a staunch opponent of LGBT rights and looks to place himself into contention alongside other Republican hopefuls, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas), who have chosen to pursue the votes of the party’s socially-conservative voters rather than its defense-minded, fiscally conservative, or libertarian-leaning segments, who might be more supportive of candidates like former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) or Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), respectively.

The National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund issued a statement blasting Jindal for opening the door to “unprecedented discrimination” against LBGT people. 

“We are outraged by Governor Bobby Jindal’s executive action designed to legalize broad discrimination against LGBTQ people,” Task Force Action Fund Executive Director Rea Carey said in a statement. “It is clear that Governor Jindal is putting his presidential aspirations before the lives of millions of people. The use of his authority to promote state-sanctioned discrimination is deplorable. His action is an example of self-interested politicians manipulating faith as an excuse to impose their personal beliefs on other people and to further their political careers.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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