Eye On Boise

'Add the Words' activists eye service-denial bill, say hearing could air their issues

Gay-rights activists were stymied again this year in winning a hearing to add discrimination protections to the Idaho Human Rights Act, reports AP reporter John Miller, but now, however, they say a separate bill seeking to do what they call the opposite — to bolster religious professionals' rights to deny service to gays — could provide a powerful venue to testify publicly on virtually the very same issue. Former Boise Democratic state Sen. Nicole LeFavour said Wednesday she'd prefer a bona fide hearing on enshrining discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in Idaho code, but short of that, Rep. Lynn Luker's religious freedom proposal, introduced Tuesday, offers a chance to air the very issues important to "Add the Words" activists. Click below for Miller's full report.

'Add the Words' activists eye service-denial bill
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gay-rights activists were stymied again this year in winning a hearing to add discrimination protections to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

Now, however, they say a separate bill seeking to do what they call the opposite — to bolster religious professionals' rights to deny service to gays — could provide a powerful venue to testify publicly on virtually the very same issue.

Former Boise Democratic state Sen. Nicole LeFavour said Wednesday she'd prefer a bona fide hearing on enshrining discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in Idaho code.

Short of that, however, LeFavour, Idaho's first openly gay lawmaker, said Rep. Lynn Luker's proposal, introduced Tuesday, to shield religious doctors, nurses, police, chiropractors, teachers and numerous other professionals from threat of license revocation raises the very issues important to "Add the Words" activists.

"That's exactly the way we'll see it, since we're never allowed to talk about what it's like to live in fear that somebody is going to say, 'We don't serve you, we don't care for people like you,' " LeFavour said in an interview. "I would prefer we had a hearing on a bill that actually afforded us respect and protected people from living in fear and despair."

Luker, a Boise Republican, brought his measure as a response to what he sees as a bundle of government decisions and court cases he fears have potential to undermine the rights of Christians and other devoutly religious people to live according to their beliefs.

There are ongoing cases in New Mexico and Oregon in which gay people have challenged businesses, one a photography studio, the other a bakery, for refusing service based on religious grounds. Additionally, federal courts in states including Utah and Oklahoma have, in preliminary decisions, struck down same-sex marriage bans on the grounds that they deny people equal protection of the U.S. Constitution.

There's a similar U.S. District Court challenge in Idaho that partly hinges on a recent decision of the Idaho State Tax Commission, affirmed so far by the state Legislature this year, that forces same-sex couples legally married in other states to file their returns as individuals.

Against this backdrop, Luker said, the time was right to have a debate on, in his view, Idaho's obligation to protect people with strongly held religious beliefs.

"Certainly, I anticipated this would generate discussion — and a lively one," Luker said Wednesday.

There's still no hearing date scheduled for his bill, though Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher, House State Affairs Committee chairman, expects to schedule one soon.

Though he hadn't previously dedicated much thought to a venue, Loertscher suggested something as large as "the Colosseum in Rome" might be necessary to accommodate everyone, should a hearing draw as much interest as past "Add the Words" rallies.

Two years ago, its backers nearly filled the Idaho Capitol's 240-seat Lincoln Auditorium.

At that 2012 hearing, the Senate State Affairs Committee rejected a proposed Human Rights Act update.

House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise and a critic of Republican leadership's decision not to schedule a 2014 hearing on the issue, says he, too, views Luker's bill as an opportunity for his side to underscore its arguments: Not having protections for gays and lesbians in Idaho law opens the door for discrimination of the variety promoted by Luker's legislation, as well as the State Tax Commission rules on gay couples' filings, Burgoyne said.

"Rep. Luker puts the same issues equally before the Legislature," Burgoyne said. "It does give us an opportunity to continue to have a discussion, to change minds."

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, acknowledged Luker's bill could be a significant draw to the Capitol.

Consequently, Bedke says he expects Loertscher to keep those weighing in from straying too far from the merits or shortcomings of Luker's bill.

"I'm going to look to the chairman managing this committee to control its ebb and flow," Bedke said.


 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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