The House Civil Law Committee heard arguments on both sides of HB 707 Tuesday. That’s the controversial measure prohibiting state action against those that exercise religious beliefs about marriage, including refusal to deal with same sex couples. It's also known as the "Marriage and Conscience Act".
“Religious observers need this basic protection,” said Rep. Mike Johnson of Bossier City, the bill’s author.
He urged swift action before the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
“June 18, the world is going to change,” Johnson warned.
It is expected the high court will rule that all states must recognize same-sex marriage.
Louisiana Family Forum director Gene Mills, speaking in support of HB 707, also sounded the alarm.
“We’re being asked to choose sides in a culture war,” Mills told the committee. “Louisiana residents deserve protection against coercive action from the state and the police power of the state, regarding their beliefs.”
Irving Washauer of the Anti-Defamation League had a different view of the bill.
“It essentially creates the ability to impose one’s religion on another,” Washauer said, in opposition to the bill.
New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau director Steven Perry made an economic argument against HB 707, saying, “If you pass it, they will not come.”
He said the state could kiss major sporting events good-bye.
“Our future in hosting National Championship Games, in hosting Super Bowls, in hosting Final Fours? That will not happen.”
Perry said the measure would devastate tourism and the convention business, proceeds of which state and local governments could ill-afford to lose.
“What is at stake in first year losses for the economy of Louisiana? $40-million to the General Fund – absolute – and that is the most conservative estimate I could make.”
Rep. Johnson disagreed, saying “There’s nothing to substantiate that number.”
After several hours of testimony, committee chair Neil Abramson addressed Johnson.
“The process and timing and the perception of your bill – at this time, in this session – has been somewhat problematic,” and Abramson moved to return the bill to the calendar, effectively killing it for the session.
But Governor Bobby Jindal, who had said passage of this bill was one of his top priorities for the session, then took matters into his own hands. The governor issued an executive order, prohibiting any government action against any person acting in accordance with religious beliefs.