If Louisiana state Rep. Mike Johnson (R) wants to convince the public that his “Marriage and Conscience Act” (HB 707) does not promote discrimination against same-sex couples, he’s chosen a funny way to go about. In a video on his new website promoting the bill, “Louisiana for Liberty,” Johnson opens by citing the examples of an Oregon bakery, a New York event venue, and a New Mexico photographer, all of whom suffered penalties under state law for “respectfully” — as Johnson describes it — refusing to serve same-sex couples.
“It’s stories like these that have compelled us to introduce the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act,” he explains. “This new law, if enacted, would protect a Louisiana citizen or business from being punished by the state simply for abiding by their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage.” In other words, Johnson wants to ensure that the kind of discrimination that has been outlawed in other states can continue in Louisiana.
Throughout his talking points in the video and across the website, Johnson describes how the bill “provides an important shield for people of faith,” but “ a sword to no one.” But in Louisiana, citizens and business already have the metaphorical sword; no statewide law protects against discrimination against LGBT people. Only the cities of Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport, along with Jefferson Parish, offer such protections at the local level. Giving a shield to businesses and organizations that would discriminate doubles how equipped they are to refuse service to same-sex couples.
The bill has been amended since it was first introduced, but still seeks to explicitly cement discrimination against same-sex couples. “This state shall not take an adverse action against a person, wholly or partially,” the bill reads, “on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” According to this language, the bill only protects those who have a belief against same-sex marriage, essentially endorsing one set of religious beliefs over others.
Equality Louisiana’s “Not My Louisiana” campaign, which has already attracted a broad coalition of support, outlines some of the consequences of this legislation:
- Non-profit organizations, like adoption agencies, could not lose their tax exemptions or state contracts for discriminating against same-sex couples.
- Employers may not be sanctioned or pay a tax penalty for denying employee benefits, including the same partner benefits employees in different-sex marriages enjoy.
- People who work for the state may not be disciplined or face consequences on the job for discriminating against individuals whose marriages they do not agree with.
- Professionals accredited, licensed, or certified by the state may not be sanctioned by accrediting bodies for refusing services or discriminating against clients.
- Businesses and individuals may not be disadvantaged in any other way by the state, even if they deny services or privileges to customers.
Focusing only on state contracts and tax benefits, the bill does not explicitly say that businesses cannot be penalized for violating state nondiscrimination laws, but that may only be because no such relevant law protecting on the basis of “sexual orientation” exists.
HB 707 was the only bill Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) specifically identified as a legislative goal in his State of the State Address last month. “I absolutely intend to fight for the passage of this legislation,” he said, explaining. “I think we can all agree that the government should never force someone to participate in a marriage ceremony against their will.”
Mirroring the national backlash over a similarly intended “religious freedom” bill in Indiana, at least one corporation has already warned Louisiana against passing this pro-discrimination legislation. IBM wrote a letter to Jindal explaining, “IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law,” because it will “create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company’s values.”
Johnson’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.