The Louisiana legislator who drafted a bill that has been linked to controversial “religious freedom” measures in Indiana and Arkansas said he plans to alter his proposal amid concerns.
“I have had productive conversations with some very thoughtful people who have expressed concern about the specific language of that subsection,” state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said in a statement. “Rather than try to modify the wording, I’ve decided it will be best to simply eliminate that paragraph entirely to avoid any further confusion. This bill is a good faith effort to protect the right of conscience for all Louisiana citizens, and we want to ensure its language accurately reflects that.”
But the change has done little to quell the backlash from gay rights groups who say Johnson’s bill promotes discrimination against same-sex couples.
Louisiana Progress Action and Equality Louisiana have launched a campaign to counter the proposed legislation. Per those groups, Not My Louisiana’s website will serve as an information center to provide updates on the bill and a petition to sign.
“At the end of the day though, it’s the good people of Louisiana who will make the biggest impact on whether our state will legalize discrimination,” Louisiana Progress executive director Bruce Parker said.
Attempts to reach Johnson for follow-up information were unsuccessful Wednesday.
House Bill 707, which Johnson has dubbed the “Marriage and Conscience Act,” would bar the state from punishing businesses and people for their views on same-sex marriage through denying or revoking state licenses, tax deductions or contracts, among other methods. Johnson has said the legislation would prevent backlash or retribution over someone’s beliefs.
Opponents argue that it would mean doctors could deny treatment to same-sex couples, and contractors could refuse to work on a gay person’s home.
Johnson filed the bill just before the state Legislature’s Friday prefiling deadline. He has denied that it targets gay and lesbian residents and claims it is intended to protect people from discrimination based on their views of same-sex marriage, whether they support or oppose it.
The Indiana and Arkansas laws were amended amid fears that they paved the way for businesses to refuse service to gay people. Several major businesses and sports organizations came out publicly against the proposals there.
Johnson’s proposed change to his bill removes a section regarding federal qualifications for employee benefit plans but doesn’t address other concerns.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican eyeing a run for president in 2016, has been hammering his own support of the so-called “religious freedom” legislation in other states. During an appearance on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, he said he was disappointed in the changes to their laws and worried about discrimination against Christians.
“This is about business owners that don’t want to have to choose between their Christian faith, their sincerely held religious beliefs, and being able to operate their businesses,” he said.
Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates Dirmann said Jindal supports Johnson’s legislation. “This is a common-sense bill that provides necessary protections for individuals to prevent adverse treatment from the state based on religious beliefs regarding marriage,” she said in a statement.