Gov. Bobby Jindal made headlines Tuesday when he issued an executive order that he said was to carry out the intent of the Marriage and Conscience Act just hours after the proposal suffered a devastating blow in a House Committee.
But experts say the order could have little real impact in Louisiana.
Rep. Mike Johnson’s House Bill 707 sought to carve out protections for people based on their views against same-sex marriage. It would have barred the state from denying or revoking tax exemptions and deductions, contracts, professional licenses, certifications and employment because they oppose same-sex marriage.
Just hours after the House Civil Law Committee voted 10-2 to effectively kill the bill’s chances of moving forward this session, Jindal issued the executive order that he said would continue to give life to the proposed legislation.
Terry Ryder, a Baton Rouge attorney who has provided legal advice for four governors, said Jindal’s order essentially serves as a written notice to the executive branch, reaffirming current law. Without an emergency — a hurricane, for example — executive orders can’t substantially change the law.
“It’s a directive to them to follow the law,” he said.
Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said the order prevents “state agencies from penalizing people for their religious belief in traditional marriage.”
“Let me make this clear. Our executive order does not create new law. It protects religious liberty as provided in our Constitution,” Reed said.
In a meeting with reporters Tuesday, Jindal admitted as much when he said his order was meant to uphold the Constitution and state law.
Louisiana adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2010, and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. “I’m issuing an executive order to reaffirm our Constitution,” Jindal said.
He also said his order was much narrower in scope than the original HB707. The governor called it a “next best thing.”
His spokeswoman, Shannon Bates Dirmann, reiterated that “next best thing” position in a statement to reporters Tuesday night.
“This executive order is the next best thing to protect sincerely held religious beliefs about traditional marriage through the executive department — it is not intended to be law,” Dirmann said.
Johnson said the goal of his bill was to get out ahead of an anticipated June 18 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
Ryder, who wouldn’t discuss the same-sex marriage politics behind the bill, pointed out that an executive order couldn’t overrule such a ruling.
“It can’t change that,” he said.
During the hearing Tuesday before the committee’s vote on HB707, several business and tourism leaders testified that even the perception of an anti-gay bias could hurt the state’s economy and discourage events from being held here.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday, calling Jindal’s action “overreaching and more than likely unenforceable.
“We have real issues to face in Louisiana. Instead of focusing on funding healthcare and education, the governor has decided to play politics and waste valuable resources that should be focused on fixing the state’s budget — a crisis that this type of political posturing got us into in the first place,” Leger said.
Jindal spokesman Reed struck back at the critics’ reactions to Jindal’s order.
“The opponents of religious liberty are quite confused, and quite confusing. Yesterday, they predicted this executive order would end everything good in Louisiana, now they say it is meaningless,” he said.
Jindal, who this week launched a presidential campaign exploratory committee, has frequently highlighted his commitment to “religious liberty” as he’s weighed a presidential run.
This week, he released an ad in Iowa on his commitment to religious freedom.