American cities tend to be far more progressive than rural areas, and that's especially true in the South. In an April 15 story in The New York Times, "Southern Cities Split With States on Social Issues," Campbell Robertson and Richard Fausset examined the southern state/city divide on matters such as Confederate iconography, "sanctuary cities," minimum wage laws, antidiscrimination ordinances and LGBT rights. They noted "the growing rift between Southern cities, with their mostly Democratic municipal governments, and Southern state legislatures, which have come to be dominated by Republicans." That pretty much sums up New Orleans' relationship to the rest of Louisiana when it comes to social issues.
Last week, LSU's Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs published the seventh installment of its 15th annual Louisiana Survey, which found — to no one's surprise — that Louisiana voters overall remain more conservative in most matters than the U.S. as a whole. But that's not the whole story.
Consider that in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney topped incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in Louisiana by more than 17 percent of the vote, yet Obama got more than 80 percent of the vote in New Orleans. The survey's findings, as noted by LSU pollster Michael Henderson, reflect a similar divide between New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. A scant majority statewide (52 percent) felt businesses providing wedding services should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples on the basis of religious objection (74 percent of Republicans agreed, while 54 percent of Democrats felt businesses should be required to do so).
Fifty-three percent of Louisianans oppose gay marriage, even though 59 percent of Louisiana residents aged 18-29 are fine with it — as are 58 percent of all voters in metro New Orleans. "Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country," the survey concluded, "Louisiana residents are no more supportive of legal recognition for same-sex marriage than they were a year ago."
These and other findings of the survey have a familiar ring. For generations, interracial marriage was outlawed in Louisiana. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, but it took years for Louisianans to accept the new reality — while some never did. In fact, in 2009 a justice of the peace in Robert, Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple, saying it was against his personal beliefs.
The LSU Survey also found 73 percent of Louisianans oppose removing Confederate monuments. So far, state lawmakers have declined to interfere with the New Orleans City Council's decision to have local monuments taken down and possibly displayed elsewhere, in a more balanced historical context.
It's reassuring to see that local public policy is not always controlled by the whims of statewide public opinion, particularly when local governments seek to make decisions deemed in the best interests of local citizens. When it comes to social issues, New Orleanians march to their own drummer — and they should be allowed to continue to do so.