Louisiana passes 'pastor protection bill' deemed unnecessary by opponents

Louisiana's House of Representatives has passed a 'Pastor Protection bill'.

Louisiana's House of Representatives has passed a 'pastor protection bill' aimed at ensuring ministers and religious organisations are not forced to support same-sex marriages contrary to their beliefs.

The bill is similar to those already in force in Texas and Florida, but does not go as far as controversial legislation in North Carolina and Mississippi, which allow businesses to discriminate on religious grounds. These states have faced a backlash from corporations angered by their policies, while prominent entertainers have refused to perform there. Other states, including Georgia and Indiana, withdrew or amended similar legislation because of the potential economic fallout.

The Lousiana bill has been criticised as an unnecessary piece of grandstanding that panders to conservative pressure groups, as the US constitution and an existing state religious freedom law already protect pastors from being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.

The bill was passed by the Republican house majority. However, the Democrat state governor, John Bel Edwards, has said he will not veto the bill, according to the Times-Picayune.

"I don't see anything in the pastor protection bill that causes me concern, except that it's unnecessary," he said. "I don't believe we have pastors today who are under threat of anything adverse happening to them if they don't officiate a gay wedding."

The bill's sponsor, Rep Mike Johnson, sought to assuage fears expressed by Lousiana's influential tourism and conferences lobby that the state would face a business backlash. After meeting New Orleans tourism officials, he tightened up the definition of the groups that could refuse services to same-sex couples, making it clear that the protections only apply to clergy, churches and certain religious organisations.

Edwards had previously signed an executive order providing employment protections for state employees and employees of state contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

It also bars discrimination in services provided by state agencies but recognises an exemption for churches and religious organisations.

"We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements," Edwards said in a statement. "While this executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people, it also signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value, but rather, that Louisiana is a state that is respectful and inclusive of everyone around us."