After a Louisiana state house legislative committee refused to act on a measure to protect business owners who have religious objections to same-sex marriage, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) stepped in and issued an executive order on Tuesday to accomplish the same purpose.
Louisiana H.B. 707, which has now been taken off the legislative calendar, is designed to block the government from revoking licenses or tax or other state benefits from businesses because of the owners’ religious views concerning same-sex marriage.
LGBT advocates say the measure would sanction discrimination against same-sex couples.
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As reported by Western Journalism, LGBT supporters, particularly in the business community, put Indiana and Arkansas in their crosshairs after the two state legislatures passed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA).
At the request of the governors of both states, the legislatures changed the law to clarify that businesses could not discriminate against customers based on their sexual orientation. There are RFRA laws in 21 states, as well as at the federal level. They have never been used successfully as a defense by religious business owners to deny anyone of service; but the LGBT supporters argue they potentially could.
As was the case in both Indiana and Arkansas, business leaders stepped in to argue H.B. 707, which builds on Louisiana’s RFRA passed in 2010, would hurt Louisiana’s economy. The Times-Picayune reports on testimony given before the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee on Tuesday:
Greater New Orleans Inc. CEO Michael Hecht and New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry talked about the millions of dollars in tax revenue the state would lose when businesses or events pulls out or choose not to locate in the state. Perry drew vague comparisons to hits taken in Indiana, which was the center of a media storm regarding its version of “religious freedom” legislation.
Bids for Super Bowls, final four tournaments and national championships may be lost, Perry said. He projected the loss in state tax revenue to be $65 million a year.
Hecht said Louisiana has enjoyed an “unprecedented economic renaissance” over the last eight years. “We’re beginning to convince the world Louisiana is a great place to business,” he said, but that success is “fragile. The perception of a discriminatory bill could threaten that.
“Companies feel it would make it harder to recruit workers to Louisiana,” he said.
When the House failed to act on H.B. 707 on Tuesday, Jindal issued the Marriage and Conscience Order. Citing the First Amendment (which was adopted word-for-word into the Louisiana Constitution), RFRA (at the state and federal level), and the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell (recognizing business owners’ religious conscience rights), the executive order directs that all 20 agencies under the governor’s authority not deny business owners their licenses or other state benefits based on their religious views concerning marriage.
Louisiana, by constitutional amendment, defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
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Louisiana state Rep. Mike Johnson (R), who sponsored H.B. 707, said the governor’s order was essential, especially with the Supreme Court’s decision concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriage expected next month. “Louisiana, by way of executive order, steps out to the lead of that issue to say, ‘We believe our first freedom is worthy of protection.'” Johnson said, “It’s always a good time to defend religious liberty.”
Jindal told the Daily Signal: “Don’t waste your breath trying to bully me in Louisiana.” He added: “It is absolutely constitutional to have religious liberty and economic freedoms.”