Gov. Bobby Jindal last week doubled down on his support for House Bill 707, aka the Marriage and Conscience Act, filed by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City. Critics say it's a clone of controversial "religious freedom" bills that have stirred controversy in Indiana and Arkansas — except critics say Johnson's bill has even more troublesome language regarding same-sex married couples.
The bill got off to a bumpy start in the Legislature, with state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, saying, "It puts Louisiana in a light of hatred and bigotry and discrimination." State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, walked out of the House Chamber when Jindal brought it up in his Opening Day address.
HB 707 initially was returned to the House calendar instead of being assigned to a committee on the first day of the session. The next day it was assigned to the House Civil Law committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans. (Abramson did not return a request for comment by press time.)
Jindal insists the law is not about discrimination, but rather prohibiting the state from enacting punitive measures against people who act, in the words of the proposed law, "in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage." Asked at a press conference April 16 if any punitive measures have been imposed here, Jindal said they hadn't but cited cases in other states where, he claims, bakers and florists were forced to provide their services to same-sex weddings under the threat of fines. "It has not happened in Louisiana," Jindal told reporters, "and it certainly won't happen as long as I'm governor and I can prevent it from happening."
Meanwhile, Jindal received a letter last week from IBM's top Louisiana official expressing the company's "strong opposition" to HB 707. "IBM has made significant investments in Louisiana including most recently a technology services delivery center in Baton Rouge, creating new jobs for Louisiana workers," wrote James M. Driesse, the company's senior state executive.
IBM employs about 800 people in Baton Rouge. Jindal's office quickly responded, saying the administration was sure IBM would be in favor of the legislation if the company knew what the bill truly was about.