Shattering Southern stereotypes: What Louisiana really thinks about same-sex marriage

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As same-sex marriage finally makes it to the last few hold-out states, Megan Boyanton looks at the reaction in the conservative heartland of Louisiana.

With Republican Governor Bobby Jindal acting as the mouthpiece for Louisiana, the state gets a conventionally ‘Southern’ reputation – one of stagnant social reform and outdated political stances, still reverberating Confederate sentiments.

Third-year university student Raya Islam said: “Louisiana has a history for supporting close-minded views.”

One of the issues Louisiana seems torn on is its approach towards same-sex marriage.

Nationally, the state was the last to distribute same-sex marriage licenses, with Republican and presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal at the helm of the resistance.

While the alligators and cotton fields are undeniable features in the state’s landscape, a good portion of current and former residents reject the stereotypes placed upon them.
Shattering Southern stereotypes: What Louisiana really thinks about same-sex marriage
(Photo: New Orleans Pride)

Trey Roberts, who has spent his entire 20 years in the state, said: “Louisiana was the little brother at the birthday party that tried to steal all the attention.”

On Monday, the clerks of court were finally permitted to issue the licenses, three days after the initial ruling.

Since then, more than half of the state’s 64 parishes have reported issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Ms Islam, who spent 12 years of her childhood in the state, said: “Same sex marriage is a basic right for humans and is an opportunity for people to be happier in life.

“It’s something people are going to look back on and be like, ‘Wait, why was it so hard to legalize?’”

Age is naturally a key component in attitudes towards homosexuality and acceptance of same-sex marriage.

According to the 2015 Louisiana State University annual survey, 59 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds favour same-sex marriage, with 41 percent in opposition- the only age group with the majority in support.

People between the ages of 30 and 49 years old were practically divided half and half, with 44 percent in favour of same-sex marriage and 47 percent against it, while 62 percent of over-65 years and older were in opposition of the legalisation.

53-year-old Louisiana native Missy Lori LeBlanc said: “I am on the Baby Boomer/Generation X cusp.

“Many of us are ridiculously conservative and some are too old to change, I fear.

“But, as the LGBT community becomes more visible, and we hear their stories, their struggles, and realize that they are our brothers, sisters, children, family members, and neighbors, many are softening.”

She continued, describing how her mother, at 73-years-old, has developed a new-found acceptance for transgender individuals because of the media coverage for Caitlyn Jenner and other celebrities.

University graduate Brandi Vincent, who lived in the state for the majority of her 23 years, concurred: “It was actually pretty awesome to see how many people from Louisiana, young and old, were protesting the state government’s decision on social media. . . and that gave me a lot of hope.

“Especially on social issues, I don’t think the position of many Louisiana politicians accurately represent the general stance of young people around the state.”
Shattering Southern stereotypes: What Louisiana really thinks about same-sex marriage
Bobby Jindal. (Photo: Michael Vadon)
In fact, among the majority of those interviewed, the state government – and, most importantly, the man running it – were described as both embarrassing and not representative of the population.

Ms Vincent, disappointed in Louisiana’s move to withhold marriage licenses, said: “Honestly, I think one thing that conservatives and liberals across the political spectrum actually agree on is that Jindal has made a lot of bad moves as governor of Louisiana — and that was definitely one of them.

“I also don’t think rejecting the SCOTUS decision was a good move for his presidential campaign and it broke my heart to see such disrespect towards our state’s gay community in the midst of such a victory.”

In 2014, Gallup reported that 45 percent of Louisianans identified as conservative. 34 percent would describe themselves as moderate and only 17 percent claim to be liberal.

The state ranks among the six most conservative states in the country.

For this reason, third-year university student Brett Houser took a more tolerant standpoint, saying: “I understood the hold-up a bit because Louisiana is a generally conservative state and I understood that it might take a little time to accept the news.

“However, it was frustrating that they weren’t upholding the Supreme Court’s decision.”

However, 45 percent of Louisiana residents identify as more along the Democratic end of the spectrum, while 41 percent lean towards the Republican side.

Ms LeBlanc said: “Louisiana’s government leaders are making a statement – that statement being that we are still a backwater, backwards state, which I find for the most part untrue.

“There are many open minded, live-and-let-live people here, but often our voices get drowned by the wingnut political voices in our state, like Bobby Jindal and David Vitter.”

However, statistics hold substantial weight.

In a 2014 report by the Lumina Foundation, Louisiana ranks 49th out of the 50 states in its number of college graduates. Only 29.1 percent of adults within the state possess an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

62-year-old Dr Holly Stave – a professor of English at Northwestern State University of Louisiana – agreed that education had an undeniable impact on the political spectrum, saying: “There’s a pretty direct correlation between progressive politics and high levels of education, with the exception being the extremely wealthy (not all of them, but the selfish ones), who have used their very fine educations to craft laws (and fund politicians to craft laws) that privilege them, to the demise of the other classes.

“…the GOP, through its assault on public education, has been able to keep people undereducated and under their thumb.”
Shattering Southern stereotypes: What Louisiana really thinks about same-sex marriage
(Photo: Infrogmation)

The influence of the church also plays a monstrous role in Louisianans’ beliefs – as just two percent identify as atheist and two percent as agnostic.

Given the two largest Christian denominations in the state are the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention – both staunch in their opposition to same-sex marriage – it is unsurprising that many Louisianans still feel deep hostility towards equality.

The SBC leadership went as far recently as declaring “spiritual warfare” on same-sex marriage, while the Catholic Church has branded it a “defeat for humanity”.

Second-year university student Tristan Bennett said: “Religion is no doubt the influence that causes residents to not agree with same-sex marriage, with pastors saying, there’s a special place in Hell for them and their supporters.”

Many followers of the Bible cite the Old Testament in their arguments against homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.

Dr Stave believes that Louisiana’s religious zealots are the ones unknowingly manipulated most by the state government.

She said: “Louisiana is one of the poorest states, with the least educated populace and is led by a governor who is completely delusional.

“He caters to the lowest common denominator – the uneducated, fundamentalist Christians who have no sense of history (not even that of the US), no sense of what the Constitution says, and no compassion for anyone other.”

However, second-year university student Sydni Sanders intends to support same-sex marriage and maintain her faith, saying: “I was really pleased, even excited, about the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I can’t say that my religion doesn’t say that it’s wrong, but that same religion… says that I shouldn’t cut my hair.

“I just don’t think that I, as a human being, have the right to decide what rights other human beings deserve, just because I may or may not agree with what they believe.”

She grew up in the same city and attended the same private school as the younger television stars of American reality show, ‘Duck Dynasty’. The Louisiana-based series brings most Southern stereotypes to life, featuring a conservative family whose patriarch is known for his homophobic stance.

20-year-old Brett Houser chooses to take a more compassionate standpoint on the issue as well.

He said: “I have noticed two main religious influences- many oppose gay marriage because of the literal words of the Bible.

“But, Christians like me support gay marriage because God is supposed to be loving and accepting of all.”

A devout Christian, Ms Sanders feels disappointed in her peers, saying: “Louisiana is full of old-school, traditional Christians and, while I respect them, I do think a lot of them have forgotten that, as Christians, we are called to love.

“And I have been seeing everything but love being exhibited lately.”
Shattering Southern stereotypes: What Louisiana really thinks about same-sex marriage
(Photo: New Orleans Pride)

Although the US Census Bureau reports that 51.1 percent of Louisiana’s population is female, a noticeable trend among conservative young men can be spotted – simply put, a good portion of them remain uncomfortable with homosexuality.

Third-year university student Trey Roberts can think of multiple reasons for this tendency: “It might possibly ‘ruin their image’ or make them seem less masculine. . .

“I honestly believe that some young conservative men are not opposed to the situation, but they just agree with the popular opinion amongst their peers.

“A lot of people don’t understand that you don’t have to be opposed to rights just because they don’t apply to you.”

Mr Roberts stands firm with the belief that same-sex marriage should have been legalised nationally years ago.

19-year-old Mr Bennett weighs in on the issue of masculine homophobia as well, saying: “It’s the opposite of what they were taught.

Also, what their parents believe has a huge impact.”

The Millennials just might be bringing a more accepting attitude to the forefront of Louisiana’s future, though.

After witnessing the historic SCOTUS ruling, many more in the younger generation are choosing to embrace it, rather than fight it.

Third-year university student Emily Paxton – a Louisianan since birth – said: “I’m thrilled that same sex marriage is finally legal.

“I don’t see any reason for people to not be able to marry the person they love, so this is a huge step in the right direction.”