Less than 24 hours after Gov. Bobby Jindal announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, a state house committee, in a 10-2 vote, effectively killed the only bill he had expressly endorsed during the current legislative session.
The bill had nothing to do with closing the state’s $1.6 billion budget shortfall or improving higher education. It didn’t concern Louisiana’s rapidly shrinking coastline and health care system. Instead, House Bill 707, the so-called “Religion and Conscience Act,” was ostensibly designed to codify — arguably redundantly —
state and private-sector discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens, all under the cynical guise of religious freedom.
The bill was largely an exercise in futility anyway; its author, freshman state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City), struggled to get his language precise and never seemed in complete control of his talking points: For Johnson and Jindal, in simple terms, this was about preventing the state from enforcing otherwise anti-discrimination claims brought by and gay and lesbians who were denied a wedding cake or a photographer or even a nurse, claims that could only be made in the event of a future Supreme Court ruling. Currently, Louisiana has a statewide ban on same-sex marriages and only three cities even have laws that protect gay and lesbian residents from workforce and housing discrimination, and no claim has ever been filed asserting this particular type of discrimination (remember, marriage equality is not yet legal in Louisiana).
A couple of hours before the meeting, I reached out to Rep. Johnson online, as he was getting ready for the biggest meeting in his nascent career. I agreed not to quote his comments on-the-record (it was early, and I’m sure he’d like to polish up some sentences before distributing them to the world), but, no question, Rep. Johnson is impressively engaging and willing to earnestly discuss the issues in a way that no other Republican member would even dare consider (with the exception of Lance Harris, who once wrote me an extensive and thoroughly well-reasoned letter personally explaining his opposition to Common Core).
Johnson may be a consummately nice man, but HB 707 was never necessary or nice; it appealed to those who traffic in hatred, not religion, not tolerance, not compassion, and certainly not the future. If you don’t believe me, watch Tuesday’s meeting, which featured the same tired parade of powerful white men and their teenage kids acting like soft-spoken sociopaths and the personification of hetero-normative privilege.
None of this will last long. The bill was rejected, and a pathetic and wholly symbolic executive order that might as well have been scrawled on the Des Moines Hilton's stationary.
HB 707, people, let’s plan a concert on Friday. A victory show. The good guys won. Everything else is recyclables.