Mike Johnson Makes Changes To ‘Marriage And Conscience Act’ That All But Ensure Its Passage

State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) announced that he will be amending HB 707, which is his bill to protect any entity from harmful actions by the state based on their view of marriage. He has decided to remove the language from the bill which mentioned employee benefits such as health insurance.

Here’s his just-released statement:

BOSSIER CITY, LA — State Representative Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, announced his intention today to delete a paragraph in House Bill 707 that has been cited by some as a source of concern.

The bill, referred to as the “Marriage and Conscience Act,” was filed Friday and has generated a great amount of attention and discussion. If passed, the new law would prevent adverse treatment by the state of any person or entity on the basis of views they may hold with regard to the institution of marriage.

The paragraph in question, proposed R.S. 13:5245(B)(4), refers to federal qualifications for employee benefit plans, and was originally included in the bill merely as an acknowledgment and restatement of existing law. But Johnson says that provision has unexpectedly caused more confusion than clarity.

“I have had productive conversations with some very thoughtful people who have expressed concern about the specific language of that subsection,” said Johnson. “Rather than try to modify the wording, I’ve decided it will be best to simply eliminate that paragraph entirely to avoid any further confusion. This bill is a good faith effort to protect the right of conscience for ALL Louisiana citizens, and we want to ensure its language accurately reflects that.”

Johnson said he hopes the civil tone of the dialogue surrounding the legislation continues. “All of us need to be able to talk about these sensitive issues together, respect the right of others to disagree, and learn to honor our neighbors’ inalienable rights of conscience as much as our own,” he said.

Johnson, who is a constitutional law attorney that has litigated religious liberty cases for nearly two decades, included an acknowledgment in HB 707 that “leading legal scholars concur conflicts between religious liberty and changing ideas about the institution of marriage are very real, rapidly increasing, and should be addressed by legislation.” The bill also quotes President Barack Obama, who agreed in 2013: “On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.”

Under the Act, the State would be specifically prohibited from denying or withholding from a person or entity such things that they would otherwise be entitled to—like a state license, certification, accreditation, employment, state contracts, state benefits, or tax deductions—solely because of that person or entity’s views about the institution of marriage.

The legislation simply prohibits discrimination by the state government against any person on the basis of their sincerely held beliefs about the institution of marriage, whatever those beliefs may be.

“Regardless of how each of us thinks marriage should be defined, we should always respect the right of our neighbors to hold a different view,” added Johnson. “And we certainly should all agree that we do not want the state to be allowed to discriminate against us, or our neighbors, simply because of our respective viewpoints. That is the essence of what it means to be a freedom-loving American, and it is absolutely essential for us as a people in an increasingly diverse, constitutional republic.”

Yesterday, Governor Bobby Jindal announced his full support of HB 707, which a spokesman described as a “common sense bill that provides necessary protections for individuals to prevent adverse treatment from the state based on religious beliefs regarding marriage.” Johnson says other legislators have already expressed an interest in serving as co-authors of HB 707, and will be added to the bill when the session begins.

“Obviously, the greatest challenge we face is the state budget, and all of us are focused like a laser and working endless hours to solve that crisis,” said Johnson. “But there are a handful of other matters that my colleagues and I agree we can and should address before the session ends, and this matter of preserving the right of conscience is a critically important one.”

This is terrible news for Equality Louisiana and the rest of Louisiana’s progressives who were hoping to kill this bill. The scare tactic of gay spouses losing their health insurance was the only argument against the bill that was getting anything resembling traction. Now the fascists at Equality Louisiana and their fellow travelers are going to have to actually argue why bakers, florists, and caterers should be required to serve gay weddings. They do not have either a moral or practical argument for that.

What Johnson did by amending this bill was all but ensure its passage in the legislature. The critics of this bill now have nothing to stand on except to defend an entitlement mentality. That’s the best description of those who demand vendors serve gay weddings, despite their objections.

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