Gov. Bobby Jindal (left) and Attorney Gen. Buddy Caldwell are the reason Louisiana was the last state in the union to follow the Supreme Court's ruling.
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that no state could deny the benefits (and responsibilities) of marriage to same-sex couples. That same day, New Orleanians Michael Robinson and Earl Benjamin, who had been together 21 years, stood in line to get a marriage license in their hometown. They were denied, even as opposite-sex couples got their licenses with no problem. Shamefully, Louisiana was the last state in the union to follow the Supreme Court's ruling. For that, we can thank Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
Caldwell initially (and wrongly) said the Supreme Court decision wasn't clear as to when marriages could commence. He said he "found nothing in the decision that makes the court's order effective immediately." On Caldwell's advice, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association recommended a 25-day waiting period. Then Jindal claimed the state would comply — "when the 5th Circuit Court orders the ruling into effect." A month earlier, Jindal sniped at President Barack Obama, saying Harvard Law School's "most famous graduate has a problem obeying the law." Last week, we saw that one of the nation's most ambitious politicians really has a problem obeying the law — and doesn't mind giving Louisiana yet another black eye in the process.
Fortunately, some local officials do understand the law. On June 29, after consulting with an attorney, Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer announced his office would begin providing marriage licenses immediately. Other parishes quickly followed. Those clerks of court clearly have a better grasp of the law than do our governor and attorney general. At 10:32 a.m. that same day, a same-sex couple tied the knot in Jefferson Parish. Celeste Autin and Alesia LeBoeuf met in high school in Marrero and had been together 38 years. They became the first legally married same-sex couple in Louisiana.
About two hours later, Robinson and Benjamin — having gone to Gretna to get their marriage license — went to Civil District Court in their hometown of New Orleans, where Judge Paula A. Brown conducted the ceremony that made them the first same-sex couple to marry in Orleans Parish.
And there's the irony. While same-sex couples in New Orleans could pick up a marriage license in Gretna and be married back in their hometown, Orleans Parish was among the last places in the state where they could get a marriage license. In every other parish, marriage licenses are issued by the clerk of court. In Orleans, they are dispensed by an office within the state Department of Health & Hospitals.
In a last-ditch effort to prove his bona fides to his imagined constituency, Jindal suggested that his recently signed "religious freedom order" would protect any clerk of court who doesn't want to provide equal protection of the law to same-sex couples. That can only prolong Louisiana's shamefully slow response to the Supreme Court's ruling, even as same-sex couples across the state are getting their marriage licenses.
Jindal and Caldwell are on the wrong side of history. Though every civil rights struggle is unique, those who stand on the wrong side of history all share the same disgraceful legacy.