BATON ROUGE – This week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards rescinded his predecessor’s controversial executive order protecting religious freedom, a move that effectively ends a lawsuit that LGBT activists filed last June.
“Now there is nothing to litigate,” Louisiana ACLU President Marjorie Esman told the Louisiana Record. “Gov. Edwards’ executive order is extraordinary because it goes beyond social situations and provides broader protections for everyone in employment and state services, particularly for transgender people.”
On Wednesday, Edwards fulfilled a promise he made a month ago when he pledged to nullify former Gov. Bobby Jindal's "Marriage and Conscience Order," which was signed on May 19, 2015. The order prevented the state from denying or revoking tax exemptions, deductions, contracts and other agreements based on a person’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Jindal signed the order only a few hours after Louisiana’s House Civil Law and Procedure Committee had voted to not advance a bill with the same language.
Almost immediately Jindal’s action came under fire. The ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, Forum for Equality Foundation and six individual plaintiffs filed suit claiming that the Marriage and Conscience Order created a class of persons who are protected over others. The lawsuit sought to permanently enjoin all state departments and commissions from implementing the provisions of Jindal’s order.
While rescinding the Marriage and Conscience Order through his own Non-Discrimination Executive Order, Edwards issued a statement that said discrimination is not a Louisiana value.
“We are fortunate enough to live in a state that is rich with diversity, and we are built on a foundation of unity and fairness for all of our citizens,” Edwards’ statement said. “We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements.”
Critics alleged such religious liberty protections would send the message that same-sex couples, their families, and supportive employers should avoid living, working or visiting Louisiana. They also argued that Jindal’s initiative violated the Louisiana Constitution.
According to Esman, the governor does not have the power to create a substantive right by executive order. The two main categories within the law are substantive law and procedural law. Substantive law refers to the rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies, while procedural law is the legal rules that govern the process for determining a party’s rights.
“I still maintain that Gov. Jindal overstepped his constitutional authority, but that doesn’t matter anymore,” Esman said, adding, “Litigation is never what anyone wants.”
Along with the ACLU, Edwards received praise from the business community.
“GNO, Inc. commends Governor John Bel Edwards for his executive order barring discrimination in Louisiana,” Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc. said in a news release. “The perception of Louisiana’s reputation has gone from worst to first in recent years, and this action will help to solidify Louisiana's current reputation as a welcoming place for business and talent.”
According to the Rev. Lindy Broderick, executive vice president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the chamber has supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers at both the state level and locally for years.
“We congratulate Gov. Edwards on making it official that state workers and employees of state contractors will not be discriminated against,” Broderick said.