Two days after Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order that critics said could promote discrimination against gays and lesbians, Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Thursday issued one of his own that he said would make clear to the rest of the nation that New Orleans “is an accepting, inviting city that thrives on its diversity and welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms.”
In a statement that directly referenced Jindal’s order, Landrieu said New Orleans has managed to protect religious freedom — the stated purpose of Jindal’s order — without opening the door to discrimination.
“In New Orleans, we believe religious liberty and freedoms should be protected and discrimination prohibited, and we have passed our own laws to reflect that principle,” Landrieu said. “This executive order is an important, symbolic affirmation that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated in New Orleans — and it should not be tolerated anywhere in Louisiana.”
New Orleans, a heavily Democratic city that has a substantial gay community, has a history of sailing against the prevailing winds of social conservatism that dominate politics in the rest of the state. The city also has more to lose from the Jindal order than most of Louisiana because so much of the economy is based on conventions, tourism and special events. Jindal’s order, and the now-dead legislation that inspired it, spawned fears that Louisiana could be shunned and possibly boycotted outright by conventioneers and other visitors.
On Tuesday, a House committee effectively killed the legislation that preceded Jindal’s order. House Bill 707 would have carved out protections for people who oppose same-sex marriage, which, while not recognized in Louisiana, has enjoyed a string of legal and political victories in other states and could be legalized nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
Jindal, who recently formed an exploratory committee for a possible 2016 presidential run, made passage of the so-called Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act a priority during the session.
Just hours after it failed in committee by a 10-2 procedural vote, Jindal signed an executive order that he said would preserve the intent of the bill by applying its protections to executive branch employees of state government.
The bill was popular among many conservative religious groups and voters. It drew substantial backlash, however, not only from liberals and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups, but also from business leaders, traditionally allies of Jindal, who felt it could harm the economy.
Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, told lawmakers this week that his sales team had already been hearing from corporations and national trade associations concerned about holding conventions in New Orleans because of the bill.
He said a decline of 10 percent in bookings could mean $700 million in lost revenues to the New Orleans economy.
The day after the order was signed, two New York lawmakers floated the idea of banning all nonessential, state-funded travel to Louisiana, raising the specter of the kind of backlash faced by Indiana and Arkansas after those states pursued similar measures.
The executive order Landrieu signed Thursday notes the state’s 2010 law barring the government from placing any burden on a person’s exercise of religion and the city’s own anti-discrimination laws.
Landrieu’s order says that while religious beliefs are protected, “there is no tolerance in the City of New Orleans for discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin or ancestry, color, religion, gender or sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital or domestic partner status, age, physical condition or disability.”
It instructs city employees to comply with the order and the city’s anti-discrimination laws.
Jindal’s order, which is far narrower than the legislation that failed, seeks to prevent the state from being able to deny or revoke tax exemptions and deductions, contracts, cooperative agreements, loans, professional licenses, certifications, accreditation or employment on the basis of a person’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Even without the order, Louisiana would already be unlikely to take action against people who oppose same-sex marriage or discriminate against gay couples. Supporters of the legislation have been unable to cite any example in which the state exacted such retribution.
Louisiana’s anti-discrimination laws don’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity.
The state adopted a constitutional amendment in 2004 banning same-sex marriage.
Landrieu’s order says that religious freedom and preventing discrimination are both “of paramount importance to the fabric of New Orleans.”
The city has a history of embracing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals, not only culturally, through Carnival krewes and the annual Southern Decadence festival, but through its laws.
In 1991, the City Council banned discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation and disability. Four years later, voters amended the City Charter to forbid discrimination based on a slew of traits that included sexual orientation and gender identification.
In 1997, under former Mayor Marc Morial, the city extended health insurance benefits to domestic partners of the city’s gay and lesbian employees. The council later passed a hate-crimes ordinance prohibiting intimidation based on the traits laid out in the charter amendment.
The city of Gretna banned discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, religion and age, among other things, in 2001, while Shreveport passed a “fairness ordinance” with similar goals in 2013.
Baton Rouge has made three similar attempts in recent years, though the measure has fallen short each time.
Staff writer Elizabeth Crisp contributed to this report. Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.