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History tells story of legalized discrimination

In researching my article in today’s paper on HJR 2, the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that’s on the November ballot, I ran across some startling history. Here it is: The Idaho Constitution prohibited people of Asian ancestry from voting, serving as jurors or holding office until 1962, and banned members of the LDS church from doing the same until 1982. While the constitutional ban clearly wasn’t enforced in later years, the idea that it was still on the books in the state’s central legal document that guides all laws in our state is pretty shocking.

The Idaho Human Rights Commission pointed this out in a statement it adopted last month opposing HJR2. “HJR 2 proposes an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that would deny important legal rights to a minority group within our population – gays and lesbians – who are currently targeted by many for ridicule, discrimination, and even physical violence,” the commission stated. “This minority is already denied the right to marry by existing Idaho law. HJR 2 would further discriminate against them by precluding future Legislatures from creating any legal status alternatives to marriage, such as a civil union. Through a civil union, same-sex couples may be able to attain civil rights important to personal dignity, such as purchasing health insurance for dependents or making emergency medical decisions for loved ones.”

“The Commission firmly believes that Idaho should not incorporate any form of discrimination into its Constitution,” the statement continues. “We know it has been done before. In the late 19th century, discrimination against minority groups subject to ridicule at that time – people of “Mongolian ancestry” and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – was written into Idaho’s Constitution. Today, we are appalled by that discriminatory language. … It took almost a century to get all the discriminatory language removed from the Constitution. The Commission urges Idaho to not make the same mistake again.” The commission concluded that HJR 2, which would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships, would “once again imbed present day discriminatory attitudes into a document that will last long beyond our lifetimes. We do not want our children to be appalled at our actions. We want them to be proud of our promise of equality, and also our actions to fulfill that promise for all the people of Idaho.”

Here’s the most startling part: When I looked up in Idaho Secretary of State’s office records what happened with the constitutional amendments that removed the old discriminatory language, I found that SJR 1, the 1962 measure to “permit Chinese, Japanese and other citizens of Mongolian descent full rights as citizens of the state,” passed with just 75.4 percent of the vote, and 1982’s HJR 7, which “removes voter disqualification language including old anti-Mormon language,” garnered just 65.7 percent to pass that year – 34.3 percent of Idahoans in 1982 voted against it.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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