The American Civil Liberties Union and other gay rights advocates have filed a lawsuit challenging an executive order that Gov. Bobby Jindal signed earlier this year to carve out protections for people who oppose same-sex marriage.
Jindal signed the executive directive, dubbed the “Marriage and Conscience Order” in May — just hours after a state House committee effectively killed a piece of legislation that largely carried the same intent.
House Bill 707 had sought to protect people who oppose same-sex marriage from any state retribution. It was largely centered on the basis that the U.S. Supreme Court could rule in favor of legalizing gay marriage. That ruling came down on Friday, paving the way for gay men and lesbians to get married in Louisiana.
Upon signing the order, Jindal admitted it was much narrower in scope than the proposed legislation, and some questioned whether the order would have much impact. He has maintained that the goal is to protect those who hold religious beliefs against gay marriage — a position he repeated in response to news of the lawsuit Tuesday.
“The ACLU used to defend civil liberties, now it appears they attack them,” Jindal said in a statement. “The Left likes to pick and choose which liberties they support at any given time, and it seems to me that religious liberty has fallen out of favor with them.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in state District Court in Baton Rouge on Tuesday by the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, Forum for Equality Foundation and six individual plaintiffs, argues that the “Marriage and Conscience Order” creates a protected class of people who oppose same-sex marriage.
“Gov. Jindal has violated the Louisiana Constitution by setting up special protections for those who share his belief system,” ACLU of Louisiana’s Executive Director Marjorie Esman said in a statement. “In our country, no one is above the law, including the governor. He swore to uphold the laws of Louisiana. This lawsuit seeks to hold him to that oath.”
The original proposed legislation would have barred the state from denying or revoking tax exemptions and deductions, contracts, professional licenses, certifications and employment because someone opposes same-sex marriage. In his executive order, Jindal cited the state’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, as well as the state’s religious freedom law, as backup to his directive.
Without an emergency — a hurricane, for example — executive orders can’t substantially change the law. It’s unclear how that could be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week, legalizing same-sex marriage.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU argues that Jindal’s executive order is “unconstitutional and unnecessary,” noting “there is no state law that penalizes or attempts to take away state benefits of person who only believe in unions between one man and one woman.”
It claims that the plaintiffs, all of whom support same-sex marriage, are affected by the order because it doesn’t grant them the same protections and benefits as it does those who oppose same-sex marriage. They further claim that Jindal’s order is an attempt to usurp the Legislature’s authority.
Jindal, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president and campaigning in Iowa this week, added a slightly updated version of an oft-repeated remark that his position on same-sex marriage can’t “be swayed by the latest opinion poll or left-wing lawsuit” — a nod to the landmark ruling.
“Religious liberty is fundamental to our freedom as Americans and I will not back down from defending it,” Jindal said.