Just hours after Louisiana lawmakers effectively killed a sweeping antigay "religious freedom" bill Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order to "accomplish the intent" of the bill.
By doing so, "Gov. Jindal made it clear that he’s so desperate to advance his long-shot presidential campaign that he’ll say or do almost anything, including enable discrimination in the name of religion," said JoDee Winterhof, the vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement Tuesday evening.
Like the legislation turned away by state lawmakers, Jindal's Marriage and Conscience Order prohibits the state from taking any punitive action against an individual, business, organization, or nonprofit that "acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman," BuzzFeed News reports. The order takes effect immediately, and remains in effect until it is amended or repealed by the governor.
Jindal was an early and outspoken supporter of efforts to give Louisiana a "license to discriminate" against legally married same-sex couples, even defending the doomed legislation in an April op-ed for The New York Times. Just one day before issuing his latest executive order, the Louisiana Republican formed an exploratory committee to consider running for president, notes BuzzFeed. Jindal has repeatedly asserted that the legislation and now the executive order will not enable businesses or individuals to deny service to LGBT people, claiming his primary goal is to protect the free exercise of religion, which is explicitly protected in the U.S. Constitution, the Louisiana constitution, and state and federal Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.
Jindal's order cites the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in addition to state and federal Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, to assert that existing law prohibits the state or federal government from "imposing a substantial burden upon a person's exercise of religion."
But as BuzzFeed notes, the order's definition of "person" is interpreted more broadly than some of the legal precedent it cites. Jindal's order defines "person" as not only an individual but also "corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies," in addition to "a church, association of churches or other religious order, [tax-exempt] body or institution."
Defining "person" thusly, Jindal's order prohibits the state as well as local departments, boards, and agencies from penalizing any "person" who "acts in accordance with his religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman."
The order goes on to detail the types of punitive actions such state agencies may not take against a business or individual for acting on a religious belief regarding marriage. The state may not deny or revoke any person's (or group's) tax-exempt status or license to practice law, disallow a tax deduction for charitable donations, deny or exclude anyone from receiving a state grant, loan, license, certification, accreditation, or employment, or deny or withhold benefits from a state program.
While the order spends a great deal of time defining the word "person," it notably does not define what actions are encompassed in a person acting in accordance with their religious beliefs on marriage. Similarly, it does not explicitly clarify that the order cannot be used to circumvent state nondiscrimination laws (which don't include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity anyway).
Opponents of the Louisiana order say that it provides legal cover for businesses, individuals, and nonprofit organizations to refuse service to same-sex couples by citing a "sincerely held" religious belief about the nature of marriage.
While nationwide outcry over similar "religious freedom" bills in Indiana and Arkansas prompted both states to amend their legislation to clarify that antigay discrimination was illegal, Louisiana has remained singularly focused on passing protections for those who view marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman.
While so-called religious freedom bills in other states did not directly mention LGBT people or even marriage, the Louisiana bill and Jindal's order offer a more pointed response to the advance of marriage equality nationwide, seeking specifically to "protect" those citizens whose faith prompts them to oppose same-sex marriage. The unabashedly antigay nature of the Louisiana bill led the Human Rights Campaign to label it "even worse" than the Indiana law that passed in March and was subsequently amended.
The nation's largest LGBT advocacy group had similarly harsh words for Jindal's executive order. "Bobby Jindal showed today why he’s consistently named one of the nation’s least-popular governors: by ignoring his constituents, members of his own party, and business leaders who correctly understand that legislation that endorses discrimination is wrong and should be rejected,” said HRC's Winterhof in the Tuesday statement.
In perhaps the most ironic aspect of Jindal's hasty issuance of an executive order, marriage equality has yet to come to Louisiana, as it is one of the few states whose ban on same-sex marriage has been upheld by a federal court. A case involving marriage bans in four other states was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, and the court’s ruling, expected in June, could result in nationwide marriage equality.
Jindal, a Republican with presidential aspirations — although he has not officially declared his candidacy — is a staunch opponent of marriage equality and LGBT equality overall; he has voiced support for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. This week he released an ad touting his views on “religious freedom” for broadcast in Iowa, which holds the nation’s earliest caucus on presidential candidates.