It’s been a while since a spontaneous celebration broke out on the State Capitol steps, but a quickly organized rally of gay couples and their supporters gathered in the heat on Friday to cheer the United States Supreme Court.
And to jeer, at least a bit, at the state officials in Louisiana who dragged their heels at the prospect of issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples — as the highest court in the land had ordered just hours before.
The rally did not feature politicos, although East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado talked about the progress for human rights in the court’s decision; he had strongly backed the “Fairness Ordinance” for protections for gay and lesbian residents in Baton Rouge. But the main speakers were, appropriately, the organizers who have been there in the trenches of the State Capitol’s legislative process on gay rights bills.
The principal reason for the rally was the high court’s decision on Friday.
Louisiana officials held out until Monday before clerks of court began issuing the marriage licenses. “As if the Supreme Court is not the last word!” the Rev. Steve Crump, of the Unitarian Church, told the faithful on Friday.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said to more cheers.
But if the celebration was pointed, it was still mostly celebratory, as speakers talked about how important is the legal recognition of gay relationships — of partners of many years’ standing, of the joys of marriage and the disabilities that gay couples have labored under.
Several speakers, though, reminded listeners that the battles in the State Capitol would still continue for gay couples.
“As everybody has said, we’ve still got work to do,” said Matthew Patterson, of Equality Louisiana, one of the groups challenging the entrenched anti-gay politics of the building on which the rainbow-clad activists gathered.
Although the gay-rights agenda is a difficult sell politically, it is not hopeless. For many years, Louisiana has been one of the few Southern states with hate-crime penalties against offenders motivated by proven anti-gay bias. But on workplace protections and day-to-day living, Louisiana law does not make it easy on the newly married gay couple.
Anyone gay can be fired, denied a lease in an apartment or otherwise discriminated against with impunity in most of the state. The exceptions are in New Orleans and, lately, Shreveport, where a “fairness ordinance” was passed in December 2013. Baton Rouge is behind the times; state law isn’t even in the 20th century yet.
Yet in the State Capitol, this year saw rejection of one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s leading priorities, a bill to allow discrimination against gay couples on the grounds of religious objection. Lawmakers were clearly unwilling to adopt it despite the shrill cries of the Louisiana Family Forum and others to whom the Legislature has been usually deferential. That outcome was a big win for Equality Louisiana, Forum for Equality, Louisiana Progress and other groups usually fighting an uphill political battle.
Still, the day-to-day discrimination issues remain to be addressed through the political process, and that’s why the State Capitol was a particularly meaningful venue for celebration.
Tom Stagg: One of the most respected U.S. District Court judges in the country, he died at 92 in Shreveport after a lifetime of service that continued until very recently, as judges on senior status can continue to hear cases.
Judge Stagg was among the creators of the modern Republican Party in Louisiana and lived to see it move out of the phone booth and into leadership of the state; he helped to write the 1974 state constitution. His leadership will be missed.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.