BOISE – An Idaho Senate committee voted 6-2 on Monday – Martin Luther King Jr.-Idaho Human Rights Day – to introduce legislation to extend Idaho’s anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation.
If enacted, the bill would make Idaho the 21st state to make that change.
Legislative sponsors, who include Republicans and Democrats, say the issue is not homosexuality, it’s discrimination.
“It’s about due process, where everyone’s rights are protected,” lead sponsor Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said.
Idaho’s 40-year-old human rights law bans discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation based on race, sex, religion, color or national origin. It doesn’t cover sexual orientation.
Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, voted no. “It just seems to me like it’s another effort to impose state sanction or certification of a lifestyle that I think is not particularly beneficial to families,” Darrington said.
It wasn’t the proposal he objected to, he added, but “the bigger picture.”
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, also voted not to introduce the bill, saying he had concerns about the wording.
Leslie Goddard, director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, said lawmakers wrestled with the discrimination issue in 1968, when the Human Rights Act was championed by Phil Batt, then a senator and later the governor.
“A person’s skills and abilities should be what determines what happens to them in the workplace, not their skin color, not their religion,” Goddard told the committee.
Today, 20 states have added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination laws, and 11 others have executive orders protecting public employees from such discrimination, she said. Also, many major corporations have enacted their own non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation.Goddard told the committee, “I have no way of knowing how many people in Idaho need this protection, but I do know there are some. … They know that they could be fired tomorrow for a reason having nothing to do with their work.”
The bill, introduced by the Senate State Affairs Committee, exempts religious organizations from the new non-discrimination provision. The Idaho Human Rights Act applies only to businesses with five or more employees.
Corder, a co-sponsor with four other lawmakers from both parties and both houses, said the bill wasn’t intentionally proposed on the holiday. “It was fortuitous, though,” he said.
Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, a co-sponsor and the state’s only openly gay legislator, called the bill’s introduction “historic.”
Corder said he’s looking forward to the bill receiving a full hearing. “I hope that hearing stays on the subject of discrimination, and doesn’t go to the subject of homosexuality, because it really is not about that,” he said.
Goddard said, “It is significant, too, because for those of us who do human rights work, Dr. King is such a guiding light, and I did find myself thinking about the courage he had to do what he did. It sometimes takes courage to try to move things forward, to do what you think is the right thing to do.”