Louisiana Gov and AG battle in court over LGBT rights

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) spent yesterday before Judge Todd Hernandez in Baton Rouge arguing Bel Edwards' executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in state government.

Landry is asking the court to throw out Edwards' executive order that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in state government. He says the governor has overstepped his bounds by imposing the LGBT workplace protections on all of the agencies.

Edwards, in turn, insists the attorney general is the one who has overreached. The governor is asking the court not only to uphold the executive order but also to impose more limited authority on Landry, so he can't block state contracts in the future.

But while both Edwards and Landry insisted the courtroom showdown was about executive power and constitutional authority -- who has control over what part of state government -- they spent most of their time and energy arguing over the merit of workplace protections for transgender people.

Two of Landry's half dozen witnesses spoke directly to the complications transgender rights might pose in an office setting. None of the witnesses' testimony ever addressed the constitutional authority of the attorney general verses the governor.

Landry's witnesses mostly commented on the inconvenience that could occur by protecting transgender people from discrimination. They said there would be confusion over which bathrooms transgender people would use and what pronouns would apply to them in the office. One witness even complained that there could be confusion over state employee uniforms and transgender people.

It's really unnatural in a lot of ways.

--Douglas Sunseri, AG's expert on employment discrimination

Yet the Edwards administration said Landry and his agency are the only ones who are confused about the transgender protections. They have been the only ones to complain about the LGBT executive order since it was announced in the spring, according to Edwards officials.

I have not heard of any objections from either agencies -- besides the Department of Justice -- or vendors.

--Scott Johnson, general counsel for the Louisiana Division of Administration

In court Tuesday, [Landry's] legal team said he only has concerns about the provisions that apply to transgender people, not the protections for gay people and same-sex couples.

This whole case is about gender identity, not sexual orientation.

--Chester Cedars, speaking for Landry

Divide and conquer much?

The governor's team was skeptical of that claim however. They said Landry filed the lawsuit against the governor to get the entire LGBT executive order thrown out, not just the part that applied to transgender people. Landry has also resisted including protections for the gay community in his own agency and state contracts, signaling he isn't interested in a more restricted policy.

If you read over their pleadings, they want the whole thing dismissed.

--Matthew Block, general counsel for the governor

At one point, Landry's legal team complained that the governor was withholding $18 million in funding from the attorney general because he was refusing to comply with the LGBT executive order. Block said the money hasn't been transferred to Landry because technically he won't sign the contract attached to the funds, which contain LGBT protections.

The fight has spilled over to the relationship between the legislators and the governor and has put state employees' health insurance in jeopardy.

State lawmakers rejected a state employee health benefits contract a couple of weeks ago because it required a health insurance company to prohibit LGBT discrimination. Legislators said they want to know whether the court will uphold the governor's LGBT executive order before they consider the contract again. If they don't approve it soon, it would endanger health insurance benefits for about 10,000 state employees. The health insurance company can't get paid until the contract is approved.

Transgender people will be blamed for this, of course, as we always are, even though one should note that it was not transgender people that instigated this row. It is, rather, hatred of transgender people which has led to this contretemps.

But even if the court does side with Edwards and reinforce the LGBT protections, lawmakers may still insist the LGBT protections come out of the health insurance agreement. State Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, was a witness at Tuesday's hearing. He said he would have a hard time approving the state health insurance contract with LGBT protections, regardless of the judge's ruling on the governor's executive power.

If it's in the form it is in now, it would be very difficult for me.

--Henry

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