The order by Edwards, a Democrat, overturns an executive advanced by his predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, protecting employers and agencies that wouldn't serve members of the LGBT community. Edwards called that rule "bad for business, tourism and the Louisiana economy" and said it did "nothing but divide our state ... to serve a narrow political agenda." Edwards signed the order following months of pressure from local business groups and giant corporations like IBM, which objected that Jindal's order last year would "create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees."
For eight years, Bobby Jindal (R) used his role as governor of Louisiana to move his state as far to the right as he possibly could, on as many issues as possible. It may be a "red" state in the Deep South, but Louisianans were deeply unimpressed with the results -- Jindal stepped down last year as one of the nation's least popular governors.
His successor, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), took office a few months ago, vowing not to be "a business-as-usual governor." He wasn't kidding. The Louisiana Democrat has already embraced Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, and yesterday, Edwards signed an executive order prohibiting state discrimination against LGBT residents.
"We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements," said Edwards. "I believe in giving every Louisianan the opportunity to be successful and to thrive in our state. Our goal is to promote the opportunities we have right here in Louisiana. 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."
The gubernatorial order refers only to public-sector workers. To expand anti-discrimination protections to the private sector, Edwards would need Louisiana's Republican-led legislature to act, which appears highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, yesterday's announcement was a major step forward for the state, which is all the more striking given the broader trends in the region.
As MSNBC's Emma Margolin noted, "Amid intensifying outcry over recently enacted anti-LGBT laws in Mississippi and North Carolina, as well as similar legislation advancing in Tennessee and Missouri, one southern state appears to be running in the opposite direction."