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What The Supreme Court LGBTQ Rights Decision Means For Louisiana

Ludovic Bertron
Wikimedia Commons

It’s being hailed as the most significant advancement in civil rights for LGBTQ people since same-sex marriage was legalized, and it could have dramatic impacts in Louisiana.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, under the law’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex. Until now, it was legal to fire workers for being LGBTQ.

Polling suggests a majority of the state supports such protections — 67 percent, according to a 2019 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. Yet Louisiana is one of 27 states without nondiscrimination protections for LGTBQ people, according to the group Freedom for All Americans. That’s despite legislative efforts that SarahJane Guidry, the executive director of the Forum for Equality, said date back to 1993.

“So to wake up and hear the news, to see that the decision came out 6-3, that the majority opinion was written by Justice Gorsuch, it really just checked off all the boxes of celebration and joy that you could really hope for when you're really concerned about what an outcome could look like,” Guidry said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, and Chief Justice John Roberts, another Republican appointee, voted with the majority, a move that took advocates by surprise. The decision imposes protections that Guidry said have been a long time coming in the state.

“Sen. Troy Carter put forward our first employment nondiscrimination act in 1993. And he's still pushing for those protections at the state level — that bill was actually filed in the 2020 legislative session. So you can see that the battle has been long and hard,” she said.

A similar bill Sen. Carter introduced in 2017 died in the senate. In 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards attempted to protect LGBTQ state employees from workplace discrimination in an executive order that was challenged by the Attorney General Jeff Landry and eventually overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The AG’s office has not commented on the decision.

“I knew that we were on the right side of history,” Edwards said in a statement on Monday, “and today’s historic decision affirms that belief. Sex-based discrimination has no place in our great state, much less in places of employment.”

The Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative organization that’s highly influential in state politics, has come out against the decision, calling it a “redefinition of ‘sex.’”

“I am deeply concerned by the vast implications of this Supreme Court decision," the group’s president, Gene Mills, said in a statement. He accused the court of legislating from the bench. "As a result, protections for women and children from predatory encroachment in shelters, in bathrooms, in sports, and in other cases are now in jeopardy,” he said.

While historic, the ruling is confined to workplace discrimination. It doesn’t cover a range of other issues, such as housing, health care or a business’s right to refuse service, Guidry noted. The decision also doesn’t preclude religious exemptions — something the majority opinion said was a matter for another case.

“These are things that impact the full lived quality of an individual's life,” Guidry said. “And so there is definitely a long, hard battle in front of us to make sure that all Louisianans are given the fairness and equality that they are deserved under the law.”

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio. To see more, visit WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio.

Rosemary Westwood is the public reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.
Rosemary Westwood
Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.