April 13 (Reuters) - Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on Wednesday signed an anti-discrimination order protecting the rights of gay and transgender people, aligning his state on the liberal side of a political divide playing out across the South.
The Democrat's executive order also protects state employees and employees of state contractors against discrimination based on other criteria including race, religion, disability or age. It also bans state agencies from discrimination while offering an exemption for churches and religious organizations.
Edwards followed in the steps of previous Democratic Louisiana governors Edwin Edwards and Kathleen Blanco in signing such an order as there is no state law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people from employment discrimination, the governor's office said in a statement.
His order rescinds one signed by his immediate predecessor, Bobby Jindal, a Republican and onetime presidential contender, that was part of the "religious freedom" movement in some Southern states that seeks to limit same-sex marriage rights and the ability of transgender people to choose which public restrooms they may use.
Edwards said his order was good for business.
"The previous administration's executive (order) I am rescinding was meant to serve a narrow political agenda," he said. "It does nothing but divide our state and force the business community, from Louisiana's smallest businesses to large corporations like IBM, to strongly oppose it."
A number of measures have pitted equality rights against religious freedoms in state legislatures across the United States. Many of the more restrictive measures have come from states of the former Confederacy, where the Republican Party is strongest.
Laws curtailing LGBT rights have faced widespread criticism from corporate, entertainment and sports leaders, especially a North Carolina law that bars transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the sex on their birth certificates.
In North Carolina, Deutsche Bank announced it was freezing plans to create 250 jobs at a software application development center and PayPal Holdings canceled plans to open a global operations center. Rock star Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in the state to protest the law. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Trott)