When it comes to sheer governmental backwardness, Louisiana is used to being able to say that, hey, at least there’s Mississippi.
This week, though, the state got to outshine not only its neighbor to the east, but other Southern states as well. And for that, credit goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who, amid a wave of anti-gay legislation sweeping through nearby statehouses, sent a dual message that Louisiana is both open to all, and open for business.
In the wake of controversial new laws in Mississippi and North Carolina, as well as a bill that the Georgia Legislature passed but the governor vetoed under heavy pressure from corporate interests, Edwards said he wanted to send a signal “to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value.”
And so Edwards issued an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state government and for state contractors, with an exception for religious groups. And he rescinded another executive order by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a vocal proponent of measures defending the rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage even if that leads to discrimination against those couples. Jindal had issued the “Marriage and Conscience” order last year after a bill he backed to prevent the state from taking action against private entities that oppose same-sex marriage died in the Legislature.
Edwards, then a state representative and candidate for governor, opposed that bill. This year, though, he has said he’d sign a new, more limited effort by its sponsor, state Rep. Mike Johnson, that would shield clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages -- a protection they have anyway, Edwards has argued.
Edwards’ new executive order is similar to one that former Govs. Kathleen Blanco and Edwin Edwards had signed, but it also goes a step further. For the first time, the state has said it will not discriminate against transgender people.
That’s a sign of the times, given that more people than ever are talking about the challenges transgender people face — including in North Carolina, where the far-reaching legislature delineates which bathrooms they’re allowed to use.
And it’s definitely a sign of the times that a Louisiana governor is willing to be a productive, compassionate voice in that conversation.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.