Industry hits Louisiana governor's gay marriage decree

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New Orleans tourism marketers openly rebelled against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order.
New Orleans tourism marketers openly rebelled against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

From the Corn Belt to the Bible Belt, tourism groups are using increasing political clout to protect their interests in the face of so-called religious-freedom bills, designed to give legal cover to citizens who wish to discriminate against the LGBT community on religious grounds.

New Orleans’ tourism marketers took the fight to the top last week when they openly rebelled against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order protecting those who refuse to tolerate same-sex marriages on religious grounds.

The tourism officials termed Jindal’s edict a “campaign document,” pointing out that he had earlier formed an exploratory committee to ascertain his chances as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination next year.

Jindal issued the executive order after a bill with the same intent, titled the Marriage and Conscience Act, was defeated in a 10-2 vote by a committee of the state legislature.

The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) distanced itself from Jindal’s order and in a joint statement with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., declared it “a political statement by our conservative governor in support of his national position on the issue,” and “its effect in essence is that of a political campaign document.”

The statement also said that Jindal’s decree was unconstitutional because Louisiana’s constitution “prohibits an executive order from enacting substantive law.”

A recent flurry of such “religious freedom” bills has been widely attacked as veiled attempts to circumvent recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions holding that states cannot prohibit same-sex marriages.

Speaking at the Travel Weekly Leadership Forum in New Orleans on May 21, NOCVB President Stephen Perry said his group had worked hard to prevent the Marriage and Conscience Act from passing, arguing that if it had, 80% to 85% of the city’s top convention customers told him they would have been unlikely to return.

Perry compared the act to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, enacted into law in March but later amended after a national outcry prompted two major conventions to pull out of Indianapolis and New York State to issue a ban against nonessential government travel to Indiana. Both moves were rescinded after the law was amended.

Confirming Perry’s fears, a New York lawmaker requested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo take similar action against Louisiana, but Perry said he was confident he could convince Cuomo that Jindal’s order would not hold up.

“We stand for religious freedom, but we do not stand and will not stand for bigotry and intolerance in the marketplace,” he said.

In Indiana, tourism interests were also pivotal in having the original bill amended.

Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy, Indianapolis’ marketing arm, said his group opposed the bill from the beginning and on the day it went into effect put an LGBT rainbow flag and the text “All are welcome in Indy” on its website’s homepage.

Visit Indy's messaging on its website shows the city welcomes everyone. There is a prominently placed link to the city’s LGBT guide.
Visit Indy's messaging on its website shows the city welcomes everyone. There is a prominently placed link to the city’s LGBT guide.

Gahl said that it was widely acknowledged that pressure from the state’s tourism industry, the seventh largest in Indiana, had helped get the bill amended.

“Tourism is an economic engine for the state and Indy in particular,” he said, noting that visitors to the city generate $4.4 billion in economic impact and support 75,000 jobs. “When [Indianapolis] is impacted, it affects sales tax collected statewide.”

Despite the amendment, Gahl said there could be lasting damage.

“We received more than 1,000 emails from consumers who said they’d been planning a trip to Indy, but because of the bill, even in its amended form, they wouldn’t travel here,” he said.

Perry said he sees a growing national movement of social conservatives and religious groups organizing to fight what they anticipate will be a Supreme Court ruling in June protecting same-sex marriage.

“It’s becoming a profound issue in America,” Perry said, “especially in cities with large conventions and special events. Based on the letters we’re seeing, it affects the leisure traveler dramatically, as well, because every one of them emotionally connects with the places they choose to go.”

As the economic impact of travel grows, Perry said industry leaders are wielding more clout.

“The tourism industry is beginning to position itself as thought leaders in American business and in American politics,” he said. “As we develop more political strength and have a broader base, we have come together to articulate those things which affect us which involve thousands of small businesses and hundreds of thousands of employees. Our voice is being heard.”

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