Analysis: Anti-gay bill rejection gives Jindal a campaign opportunity

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

BATON ROUGE, La. — By voting down a proposal to give special protections to people who oppose same-sex marriage, lawmakers thought they had put the divisive issue to bed and ended one of the major controversies of the legislative session.

The defeat seemed a sharp rebuke to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who championed the religious objections bill as a central plank of his legislative agenda.

Instead, lawmakers handed Jindal a way to bolster his rallying cry about “religious liberty” as he uses the nation’s culture wars to help build a likely campaign for president.

Perhaps the Republican governor hoped it might go this way all along.

The defeat gave Jindal the ability to issue an executive order that he could tout across presidential campaign states to showcase his efforts to protect what he describes as religious freedom. And it came the same week Jindal announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee and a group tied to the governor launched an ad in Iowa positioning Jindal as a defender of religious rights.

On Tuesday, the House civil law committee voted 10-2 against the bill proposed by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, that would have prohibited the state from denying people or businesses any licenses, benefits, jobs or tax deductions because of actions taken “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage.

Johnson framed it as a protection for Christians who believe that marriage should only be between a man and woman, anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court this summer will strike down same-sex marriage bans across the country.

Critics saw it as sanctioning in law discrimination against same-sex couples.

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Businesses came out in opposition, much like they did for similar debates in Indiana, Arkansas and other states. Dow Chemical Company – which employs 6,000 direct workers and contractors in Louisiana – said it would hinder the company’s ability to recruit employees. Tourism leaders said it could heavily damage one of the state’s most important industries.

Lawmakers called the proposal an unnecessary distraction from important work on balancing next year’s budget and stabilizing the state’s finances. The House committee’s shelving of Johnson’s bill was designed to end the controversy.

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