Louisiana RFRA Reinforcement Is Clear Defense of Traditional Marriage

Legal scholars and political pundits may still be debating whether the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act was a shot across the bow of legalized gay marriage that was actually an attempt to validate discrimination against the LGBT community.

But no one can doubt the intent of HB 707 — the Marriage and Conscience Act — introduced in the Louisiana House by Rep. Mike Johnson (R).

Louisiana is one of 20 states that already have Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws on the books. Johnson’s proposal would ratchet up the protections offered to those who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman. And as its title would imply, it leaves no doubt as to its intent.

The legislation put forth by Johnson, an attorney by profession, has been described as a proactive defense to an expected Supreme Court ruling that could impact Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The fifteenth line of the proposal makes that clear: “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, this state shall not take any adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage.”

Johnson’s proposal would prevent Louisiana officials from punishing anyone or any business which “exercises religious liberty or moral conviction about the institution of marriage” with tax penalties, or other sanctions such as exclusion from receiving state grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, loans, professional licenses, certifications and accreditations.

The Marriage and Conscience Act could also be used as a defense against any claims of discrimination if a business, let’s say a bakery or a photographer, declined to provide services for a gay marriage.

"It would be a license to the private sector to refuse, for religious or moral reasons, to recognize same-sex marriages. It covers not just churches and religious organizations, but also the for-profit sector, and with no limit on size or diversity of ownership," Douglas Laycock, a constitutional law and religious liberty expert at the University of Virginia, told the Times-Picayune.

Johnson also makes it clear in his proposal that this is about the quest for religious liberty in the face of “conflicts between religious liberty and changing ideas about the institution of marriage (that) are very real, rapidly increasing.”

Johnson believes, as he wrote in HB 707, that “protecting religious freedom from government intrusion is a government interest of the highest order,” and that his Marriage and Conscience Act is in society’s best interests.

“Laws that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs or moral convictions about marriage will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate similar tolerance and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse, and peaceful society,” he argues in the proposal.