BATON ROUGE, April 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has signed an executive order that critics say will open the floodgates for discrimination lawsuits to be filed against businesses and will prevent people of faith from freely exercising their religion.
The order, which was signed yesterday, adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” alongside such immutable characteristics as race, sex, and national origin in the state's anti-discrimination policy. All firms that accept state contracts must adopt a similar policy.
“We are fortunate enough to live in a state that is rich with diversity,” said Gov. Edwards on Wednesday. “We do not discriminate based on our disagreements.”
Edwards, a Democrat, rescinded an executive order enacted by former Gov. Bobby Jindal last May, which prohibits the state from taking any “adverse action” against any person or business who acts on a belief “that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Gov. Jindal penned the “Marriage and Conscience” order just hours after state legislators, including many Republicans, defeated a similar bill introduced by State Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.
Gov. Edwards ripped his predecessor's action, saying it did “nothing but divide our state” and “goes against everything we stand for – unity, acceptance, and opportunity for all.”
His own “executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people,” and “signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value,” Gov. Edwards said.
State family leaders said the order moved the state backwards and placed it out-of-step with other states, like Mississippi, where Gov. Phil Bryant just signed a law granting broad religious protections for business owners who do not wish to take part in a same-sex “wedding” ceremony.
“Ironically, while other states are seeking to protect people of faith, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards seems to be using his executive power to silence those same people of faith,” said Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum.
LFF said the order “introduces sexual politics into the workplace” and calls the religious exemption “extremely narrow.”
“Nowhere in Louisiana law (or the executive order) is a legal definition provided for the newly protected categories,” Mills added.
Gov. Edwards, who promised to rescind Jindal's executive order last December, highlighted support from business leaders and filmmakers upon rolling out his decision on Wednesday.
The previous order “sanctions unfair discrimination and prevents growth in Louisiana’s creative economy,” said Lampton Enochs, CEO of Moonbot Studios, which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2012. It produces a wide range of materials aimed at children.
“A welcoming and fair workplace is not only the right thing to do, but is good for business,” agreed Rev. Lindy Broderick, the executive vice president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, who is also a deacon at a United Methodist church in Shreveport.
A coalition of corporate and entertainment leaders, such as Disney Studios, have threatened to boycott other states considering religious conscience legislation.
However, individuals and small business owners with deeply held traditional beliefs about sexuality – including photographers, bakers, and elderly florists – across the nation have faced crushing fines and government sanctions for refusing to take part in a ceremony that violated their religion.
Last year, Richard and Betty Odgaard closed Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa, after being the target of complaints that they would not host a homosexual ceremony in their chapel.
In 2014, Robert and Cynthia Gifford closed the part of their business that involved hosting weddings after being forced to pay a $13,000 settlement for refusing to host a lesbian ceremony on their New York property.