Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year passed much milder bills that would have had similar effects. After the business community, the NCAA, and Walmart spoke out against them, both states rewrote the laws to make clear that they didn’t do what HB 707 explicitly said it would do.
Similar voices weighed in on HB 707. IBM sent Jindal a letter warning that “IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law." Stephen Perry, the head of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, issued a statement saying that the bill “has the possibility of threatening our state's third largest industry and creating economic losses pushing past a billion dollars a year and costing us tens of thousands of jobs."
That kind of warning may have frightened off Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, but Bobby Jindal is made of sterner stuff.* “I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Save your breath.”
It turns out he didn’t speak for the legislature, however; a committee voted to bury HB 707. Within hours, Jindal had issued an executive order that sounds as if it does what the bill would have done.
Its effect is far from clear. The Democratic speaker pro tempore of the Louisiana House dismissed the order as “overreaching and more than likely unenforceable.” Perry, of the Convention Bureau, said it was “largely a political statement” that “will have very little practical impact.” The new order, in fact, seems likely to achieve very little—except what Jindal, who vacates the governor’s office next January, plainly wants. It puts Louisiana firmly on record as a place same-sex couples, and their families and friends and employers, should avoid, for work or play.
As The Washington Post has pointed out, the executive order seems at a minimum like hypocrisy—Jindal denounced Obama’s enforcement of an existing statute, the Immigration and Naturalization Act, as “an arrogant, cynical political move.” As I’ve noted before, however, executive-power hypocrisy is a bipartisan political pandemic. What’s more remarkable is that the governor has designated Louisiana an official discrimination zone, even though he has almost no power to do so.
The executive order says that religious freedom is of “preeminent importance,” but it explains that freedom extends to only one kind of belief: that of 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.” It then quickly adds that “this principle [should] not be construed to authorize any act of discrimination.”
The rejected bill said the same thing; but what it provided—and what the executive order purports to provide—was that state government could not take any “adverse action” against anyone who did commit an “act of discrimination”—not even scold them. That’s not authorization for discrimination; it’s impunity for discriminators.