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Jindal’s Religious Liberty Cynicism

Gay marriage and the governor's failing presidential prospects

You all know where I stand on religious liberty and gay rights. I agree with my governor, Bobby Jindal, that this is a serious issue. But I find him impossible to take seriously on the issue. Here’s what he’s done today:

Hours after a committee in the Louisiana Legislature effectively voted down a bill that would explicitly protect people and businesses that do not want to participate in same-sex marriage, Gov.Bobby Jindal issued an executive order on Tuesday to accomplish much of what the bill had set out to do.

“We don’t support discrimination in Louisiana and we do support religious liberty,” the governor said in a statement. “These two values can be upheld at the same time.”

Critics, including liberals and even some conservatives, as well influential business leaders, were sharply critical of the governor’s position, dismissing it as an attempt to court conservatives nationally in advance of his likely presidential run.

“It’s a cynical attempt to deflect from the failures of what should be the top legislative priority, what we’re dealing with every day, which is a broken state budget,” State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat, said in a speech on the floor Tuesday afternoon. She noted that Mr. Jindal has been appearing in an ad in Iowa in which he discusses his views on religious liberty. The governor announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a 2016 presidential run earlier in the week.

I think she’s right. This has nothing to do with protecting religious liberty in Louisiana, and everything to do with trying to defibrillate Jindal’s moribund presidential prospects by getting a rise out of Evangelical primary voters.

Here’s why this is complicated. Is it the case that business interests cowed Republicans, who control the state legislature, from voting for this? Sure, absolutely. I’d say it’s not only possible, it’s likely. But here’s the thing: social conservatives, which includes most of the state legislature, are operating from a very weak position on this issue.

The legislature is trying to figure out how to deal with a near-catastrophic hole in the state budget, one that has become much worse over the years because of Gov. Jindal’s refusal to deal straightforwardly with it. Instead, Jindal relied on short-term gimmicks that allowed him to stay on Grover Norquist’s good side, and therefore keep his dream of being the GOP presidential nominee alive.

Ours is a very conservative state, and people don’t want gay marriage here, at least not at the present moment. I am certain that religious liberty is a concern, or would be if you asked voters. But the GOP-led legislature kicking that particular ball down the road is prudent at the present moment, for two reasons:

1) All legislation of this sort should be put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling next month. That will clarify matters.

2) The state’s fiscal problems are so overwhelming, and so consequential to the everyday lives of Louisianians, that we can’t afford to do anything right now to take the focus off of sorting the budget out and improving the economy. Gay marriage vs. religious liberty is not a fight we need in Louisiana, especially when there haven’t been any real challenges to it.

Why, exactly, should the Louisiana legislature, swamped by the budget disaster, invite a sh*tstorm right now for the sake of boosting Bobby Jindal’s flailing presidential primary prospects? Jindal didn’t issue that executive order (which, by the way, isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans) for the sake of the people of Louisiana. He did it for the sake of Republican primary voters in Iowa. So what else is new?



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