When he called the latest anti-gay bill in the Legislature a “distraction,” Rep. Neil Abramson, of New Orleans, put his finger on a principal reason that lawmakers balked at one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pet proposals.
Facing the largest budget crisis in many years, with complex tax policies under debate in a short fiscal session, the lawmakers really never had time for the bill by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, and embraced by Jindal, who is all but certain to run for president as an ardent social conservative.
The Johnson bill would have given an exemption from anti-discrimination law for conscience objections to gay marriage.
Gay marriage is not legal in Louisiana and state law already provides protections for conscientious religious objections to state law and regulation. That this new proposal surfaced, after a firestorm of criticism of similar measures in Indiana and Arkansas, says a lot about the motivations of those pushing “religious freedom” as a political cause.
Jindal cannot take the 10-2 rejection of the bill by the House’s Civil Law committee lying down, for political reasons. He issued an executive order that he said would be a limited but still-effective form of the failed Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act. Jindal said the order, applying only to the executive branch, will prevent the state from being able to deny or revoke tax exemptions, tax deductions, contracts, cooperative agreements, loans, professional licenses, certifications, accreditation or employment on the basis of opposition toward same-sex marriage.
We believe that the agitation over religious freedom is overblown in a country where the First Amendment to the Constitution has served the nation well for centuries.
The Johnson bill also raised legitimate concerns about Louisiana’s tourism economy. We do not need a senseless controversy to arise over a non-issue like that addressed in the Johnson bill.
Major Louisiana employers also raised concerns about their recruitment of talent, should a bill perceived as authorizing discriminatory behavior be passed into law.
“The Dow Chemical Company strives to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces and to retain and recruit the best talent. We believe that everyone should be able to bring their whole self to work,” Earl Shipp, vice president of Dow Gulf Coast Operations, said in a statement. “We call upon our legislative leaders to focus on making our state more competitive and economically sound instead of taking actions that divide us as citizens.”
The House committee did exactly that, and their decision to remove this distraction from the 2015 Legislature was the right thing to do. For Jindal to attempt to evade the decision by executive order smacks of desperation as well as politics.