Saying “we respect our fellow citizens,” Louisiana’s new Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, yesterday issued an executive order mandating nondiscrimination by state government against people based on sexual orientation and gender.
He also revoked an order by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal that gave protection to people who discriminated against LGBT in the name of religion. Edwards’ order contains exceptions for religious organizations who contract to provide services. Louisiana also has some local governments that have passed non-discrimination ordinances. There is no state law barring such ordinances.
Edwards didn’t say so, but his action comes as North Carolina and Mississippi are experiencing business backlash to new discriminatory laws.
Two business groups — one in New Orleans and one in Shreveport — expressed support for Edwards’ issuing the LGBT protection. “This action will help to solidify Louisiana’s current reputation as a welcoming place for business and talent,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., one of the largest business groups in the city.
So far, Arkansas has flown under the radar of those expressing disagreement with discriminatory state law by canceling business expansions, canceling travel and other measures.
Arkansas law varies little except in specifics. The legislature passed — and Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed — a broad discrimination bill that gives broad protection for discrimination against LGBT people by any who claim a religious basis for discriminatory actions. Hutchinson declined to stand in the way of a law preventing local non-discrimination ordinances — a law that has not successfully staunched local efforts.
Significantly, Gov. Hutchinson also talked about, but ultimately decided against, issuing a nondiscrimination policy for state government. It remains perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBT state employees and to do business with those who openly discriminate.
Hutchinson said last year he saw no “urgent” need for a state nondiscrimination policy. Perhaps an awareness by major businesses that Arkansas law is every bit as discriminatory as those in other Southern states and that the governor to date has taken no steps to mitigate those laws might produce more urgency for action.