Future Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards stated he wants to issue a protective law for LGBT employees when he takes office in January. It is currently legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation in Louisiana (New Orleans and Shreveport have exceptions). Including Louisiana, it is currently legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity in 18 states.
“I would characterize it as a landslide, certainly, for a Democrat in a state like Louisiana,” Robert Hogan, a political scientist with Louisiana State University, said regarding the election.
Edwards beat his opponent, Sen. David Vitter, in a shocking election in which he received 56 percent of the state’s votes. Louisiana has not elected a Democrat to any statewide office since 2008.
Although Edwards is a Democrat, he is typically a more conservative one. He is Catholic and very public regarding his anti-abortion views, and he has stated he personally does not support same-gender marriage. However, he has said that his personal beliefs would not conflict with the law already in place; when asked about the Kim Davis scandal in Kentucky, he said in an interview, “I don’t believe anyone is free to deny those marriage licenses once the Supreme Court has ruled.”
This is a drastic change from Jindal, who has said he would never waver on his firm stance opposing gay marriage. “I know former Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, President Obama, have changed their positions on this,” he said in an interview last year. “I’m not a weather vane on this issue and I’m not going to change my position. I continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Edwards’ proposed order wouldn’t protect every LGBT worker because it would not extend to branches of government out of his control, like the judiciary branch. However, his intentions already extend far beyond any actions of Jindal, who called such a protection “unnecessary.”
Edwards is not the first Louisiana governor who has wanted to offer these protections. The state’s two Democratic governors before Edwards, Edwin Edwards (who has no relation to John Bel Edwards) and Kathleen Blanco, took a stand on the issue as well. But incoming Republican governors after Edwin Edwards and Blanco rejected the measures.
LGBT groups in the state are hoping that Edwards will be the governor to make the order stick, which would be significant in the conservative state.
“People deserve not to be fired from their jobs because of who they are,” Matthew Patterson, a member of Equality Louisiana, said. Equality Louisiana is an LGBT advocacy group.
Sarah Jane Brady, a member of Forum for Equality, another group of LGBT advocators, said, “We are certainly looking forward to having a governor that makes human rights a priority.”
Given the state’s history, Edwards has a hard battle ahead of him. Gene Mills, head of the Louisiana Family Forum (a conservative Christian group), has already expressed his “concerns” over the potential order.
“I have equal concerns that religious liberties may be jeopardized,” Mills said. The group has already stated they will fight the measure.
Edwards and his team have not yet announced when the incoming governor plans to sign such an order. According to The Times-Picayune, “The governor-elect told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune directly a few weeks ago that he planned to sign such a document after he takes office. Two LGBT advocacy groups said Edwards has made similar commitments to them as well.”