Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why Louisiana "Pastor Protection Act" (HB 597) is wrong.

I have to write today to express my disgust and rejection of the idea behind HB597, the so-called "Pastor Protection anti-LGBT Act" brought forth by Rep. Mike Johnson.

WAIT! Don't run away.  I know this isn't my normal humor filled snark post. And I know that government stuff is boring and maybe you don't even live in Louisiana so it doesn't pertain to you... but I promise this impacts everyone in these United States of America and it's important you know. 

First things first, let's get the basics out of the way...

What is it?
For those of you who don't know, today the Louisiana State House Civil Law & Procedure Committee moved forward the bill (which passed with a 7-3 vote and which you can find here). Here's an important excerpt.
"an individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment, may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief."
This is the second time Rep. Mike Johnson has brought forth a bill like this to vote. The first was Marriage & Conscience anti-LGBT Act (HB 707) almost a year ago that was defeated in committee. In response Rep Mike Johnson stated "So long as I'm here, we'll bring it back. The principle is not going away."

What does that mean? 
The proponents of this bill are looking for state protections for clergy members and religious organizations for marriage ceremonies in the wake of SCOTUS passing gay marriage. This isn't new stuff. 

How this can be dangerous? 
  • First, priests, pastors, rabbis, and other clergy are already covered under the First Amendment. Therefore, the legislation isn't even needed! There's been only one known court case of a private business not providing services to a same sex couple that ended up in a civil suit and that was in New Jersey where there are state laws protecting LGBT rights. Otherwise we're creating legislation for legislation sake. It's a completely unnecessary piece of legislation specifically created for a SCOTUS response to gay marriage. If HB597 were "harmless" and has "no impact" (Rep. Johnaon's words), it wouldn't have been presented. Johnson willfully ignores that the 1st Amendment ensures right of conscience, making this bill nothing other than a wiggled-in bill. 
  • Proponents argue that religious organizations like Our Lady of the Lake hospital or (loosely defined) Hobby Lobby don't perform marriages and therefore this bill doesn't apply. However, there's always interpretation that leaves much to be desired. During the committee meeting today Rep. Johnson admits it is intentionally vague as to what defines a "religious organization." Vagueness in law can create massive issues. Who knows how the courts may interpret these definitions going forward. Could Hobby Lobby use this as grounds to deny a gay couple buying crafts for their wedding?
  • And when I say vague, I mean vague. They use the term "a sincerely held religious belief." Does that cover those religious organizations that oppose interracial marriage? Cause that's been a law since 1967 and yet we're still seeing pastors refuse interracial marriages! again It's the vague language that leaves it open for religious organizations to come up with the excuses. 
  • Lastly, look at the amount of money it's costing Mississippi & North Carolina with their recent anti-LGBT religious freedom laws. Georgia just vetoed this bill due to the pressure from other businesses. As always, in the end, money is power. 
What you can do? 
  1. Share the message! (in state or not)
    When you live in the red-heavy south if you don't have the media behind you, it gets passed over. And that's exactly what happened here. Rep. Johnson said in committee today he intentionally didn't "drum up people" for today's vote because he wanted the bill to stand on its own. I contend he did it purposefully because he wanted it to pass exactly how North Carolina was able to fastrack the anti-LGBT  Public Facilities & Security Act. We have to give a face to this bill. Last year many businesses threatened to leave Louisiana if the HB 707 passed.  We need that effort again. Share this post via Facebook, twitter, etc. to spread the word. 
  2. Call or write your Rep!
    If you are a resident I encourage to you call or write your representative in opposition of HB 597. I've created letter already done for you, just copy and paste. 
  3. Write the Governor! Tell him you support him in veto-ing this bill if it does come across his desk. 
  4. Sign this petition showing your support! 
Final thoughts
Fortunately we still have the legislative vote and a Democrat governor who will likely veto (as he did last year as a rep). But it's just a waste of time and tax dollars tbh. Especially when LA is facing a budget crisis. Let's focus more on that please.

In some ways I feel like this is a lose-lose-situation. If the bill passes it adversely affects the LGBT community and makes Louisiana look bad. And if we drum up support in the media, protest, protest, protest and this bill doesn't get passed it'll still drag my great state of Louisiana through the mud. Once again affecting that bottom dollar of businesses, talented employees, etc. not wanting to settle here. 

In my limited experience I've come to understand that all LGBT people want it what everyone wants.
The right to vote. 
The right to marry. 
The right to fair employment. 
The right to be treated equally. 
To just live their life. 
Giving others the same rights we have, doesn't take away or lessen the value of our own. 

Let me say something... 
I love this state with all my heart. 
Sincerely. 
Truly. 
It's in my veins. 

Natchitoches with the river in the heart of it and the Christmas light festival. Alexandria where I went to grammar school. Lafayette with it's artsy/indie band scene and the International Festival. St. Francisville with it's majestic-mossed oaks and antique stores. Baton Rouge, my home, my love, and the "working body of Louisiana." And of course N'Awlins where the soul of Louisiana resides. 

I love this state. I do. But you make it hard to live here.  

I have a family member who is very near and dear to my heart. Someone I love more than my self. And this bill and the anti-LGBT culture of this state, this ignorance, is forcing this person away from Louisiana.  I have many other close family and friends in LGBT community and s/o to you too!

How do you convince an LGBT member to see past something like this? 
"But we have such great food!"
"Voodoo Fest!"
"Drive thru daiquiris!"
"No snow!"

How can you possibly look them in the eye and say... "Please stay."

The older I get the more I realize I need to make a difference. Life is short, stand up for what you believe in.

We can do better, Louisiana.

4/13/2016 EDIT: As of this morning LA Gov John Bel Edwards signed an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state employment. This is a huge step in the right direction and I'm thankful for his efforts. The above bill is still moving through legislation though so keep moving forward, Louisiana!

4/20/2016 EDIT: As of yesterday HB 597 passed the full Louisiana House of Representatives by a vote of 80-18 — but not in it's original form. It was substantially amended. Per Equality LA:
"Rep. Johnson replaced the vague language related to "religious organizations" with a more specific definition of the clergy and churches the bill is intended to apply to, including definitively removing private for-profit businesses from the bill's scope. The bill was also amended to state that it cannot be applied to interracial marriages. Rep. Johnson's own words on the floor suggest that this amendment may make the bill vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, but regardless of that, the debate on the House floor made it clear that the primary goal of this bill is to express animus towards same-sex couples."



4 comments:

  1. As a Northerner I'm looking at this legislation sweeping through the South and I have to agree with your last point, I don't want to live there ... it's especially true when I heard the polling in Mississippi completely supports the legislation they passed there.

    But then I think about the damage being done to North Carolina's economy and I think that the LGBTs are being hurt right along with the bigots and that doesn't seem fair either. I can't wait for this election cycle to be over and maybe all of this hate that has been stirred up can ease a little and people can start to remember that we're all just trying to live our lives the best we can. Thanks for this post, it's needed. :-)

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    1. Thanks Ellejae for your reply. I hope this election cycle does prove to be positive with the right leader moving our nation towards diversity and inclusion. Much love!

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    2. Johnson said "I didn't drum up support for this bill." Check out http://louisianaforliberty.com

      According to, "whois", the site is owned by Johnson. He bought a domain, got hosting, and had a website designed that was dedicated to HB 597. Certainly its purpose was to drum up support for this bill. ThinkProgress wrote about the contents of his website last year: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/05/07/3656171/louisiana-marriage-conscience-discrimination/ and Johnson has changed the website since ThinkProgess criticized Johnson's defense of the bill on his website.

      He certainly has been trying to defend and drum up support for his bill. The website has been redesigned since last year, and he removed the video that ThinkProgress criticized last year. This is what the website looked like last year before ThinkProgress criticized the website: http://web.archive.org/web/20150509195635/http://www.louisianaforliberty.com/

      Here is the youtube video where Johnson explains (defends) his bill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU36FZOkG9w

      It appears that Johnson now believes that 'less is best'. He cut down the explanation of the bill on the website since last year, took the video off, and has not been promoting the bill as much. But all the evidence is there that he certainly did explain, defend, and attempt to drum up support for the bill.

      He probably wanted the bill to fly under the radar. This yearit has made it to a Committee. We certainly don't need this bill in place, or for it to pass. I used the letter template you provided and contacted my representative. I hope others do the same.

      Thanks for your post!

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    3. Thank you so much for that info! It certainly does seem that he tried to sneak this one in. I appreciate you reading and sharing the links, thanks again!

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