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    Louisiana Lawmaker Introduces The 'Marriage And Conscience Act' Legalizing Discrimination Against Gay Couples

    Worried the Supreme Court will legalize same-sex marriage, Louisiana Republican State Representative Mike Johnson has introduced a bill allowing businesses to deny service to members of same-sex marriages.

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    If Louisiana learned any lesson from the blowback that arose from Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act' it seems to have been: don't be coy about what you really want.

    mike_johnson2.jpgRed-State lawmakers are beginning to worry that the Supreme Court will strike down state marriage bans, leaving them without a legal way to convey to gays how much they disapprove of their love lives. So Louisiana State Rep. Mike Johnson, (that's him in the dark suit with Rick Santorum and a cross-section of the Duggar brood in the photo, left) has decided to address the problem directly.

    Rep. Johnson introduced the Marriage And Conscience Act last Friday, a bill that would allow anyone with an moral objection to same-sex marriage to refuse to serve them, religious conviction or not. 

    "This state shall not take any adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage." reads the bill, which would apply not just to religious groups, but to all private employers. 

    The bill also allows private employers to refuse spousal benefits to same-sex couples.

    "It would be a license to the private sector to refuse, for religious or moral reasons, to recognize same-sex marriages," said Douglas Laycock, a constitutional law and religious liberty expert at the University of Virginia. "It covers not just churches and religious organizations, but also the for-profit sector, and with no limit on size or diversity of ownership." 

    State Rep. Johnson insists his legislation has nothing in common with the religious freedom bills that drew national protests in Indiana and Arkansas. He told reporters his bill simply protects business owners from government retaliation based on their personal beliefs about marriage.

    "It is meant to protect people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, Rep. Johnson said with a straight face, though he made no attempt to explain how it "protects" gay couples. "This is not an Indiana thing. This is not an Arkansas thing. I'm not sure why it would upset anyone." 

    LGBT advocates warn Rep. Johnson is trying to portray his bill as being different from the religious freedom legislation in Indiana and Arkansas in order to avoid the backlash those states received. 

    "He realized he couldn't bring this in through the front door, so he is trying to bring it in through the back door," said Bruce Parker, coalition manager for Equality Louisiana. "With a decision coming from the Supreme Court that could possibly allow same-sex couples in Louisiana to obtain marriage licenses, Rep. Johnson is trying to preemptively give individuals and businesses a way to disregard federal laws and rulings." 

    Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal refused to take a position on the bill when he appeared on Meet The Press last Sunday, saying he would wait until the legislative session opened this week, but he has wholeheartedly endorsed religious freedom laws in the past. Think Progress reminded its readers today that Gov. Jindal has also openly praised the idea that businesses dealing with weddings should be able to turn same-sex couples away, saying: 

    "We’re not talking about day-to-day routine commercial transactions. We’re talking about a very specific example here of business owners, of florists, of musicians, of caterers who are being forced to either pay thousands of dollars or close their businesses if they don’t want to participate in a wedding ceremony that contradicts their religious beliefs."

    Louisiana's business groups have largely been silent about Rep. Johnson's bill, but The Human Rights Campaign has learned from the success in quashing religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas. They say they are ready to call on artists and events to avoid Louisiana if the legislature takes up the bill.

     

     

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