What does the state of Idaho tell gay and lesbian residents who are victims of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations?
What does it tell the people who discriminate?
“OK by us.”
It’s not surprising that Idaho has yet to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination laws. After all, it took the more liberal state of Washington 29 years of wrangling to amend laws that bar discrimination based on race, gender and religion. But at least Washington legislators had the conversation.
In Idaho, lawmakers struggle to get such bills printed, let alone debated.
Last Friday, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, urged the Senate State Affairs Committee to amend the Human Rights Act. About 30 minutes later, she was shot down. So much for listening to the concerns of the audience that jammed the hearing room and spilled into the hallway.
LeFavour, the only openly gay state lawmaker, noted that many lawmakers have family members who would be affected by the bill, and so it would be appropriate to open up the issue to a floor debate. She cited a Boise State University survey in which 64 percent of respondents thought it was illegal to fire workers because of their sexual orientation.
Not so. In Idaho, that’s perfectly legal.
Co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, pointed out that the state had stopped treating women, racial minorities and people with mental disabilities as second-class citizens, and he urged lawmakers to tap the same sense of fairness and compassion for its gay and lesbian residents.
Then came a quick voice vote against introducing the bill, and it was over. That was a step back from last year, when a bill was introduced.
Before the hearing, the Rev. Bryan Fischer, head of the Idaho Values Alliance, handed out a letter opposing “granting special workplace rights based on non-normative sexual orientations.”
And what would those special rights be? The same protections afforded everyone else, including the gravest sinners among the “normative” population. Of course, it would be impossible for the state to determine the good people from the bad, so it blithely clings to the generalization that all gay and lesbian residents are equally stained. It is an appalling conceit that is refuted daily by tens of thousands of good citizens.
Public attitudes have changed dramatically over the past two decades. For instance, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 75 percent of those surveyed said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 44 percent in 1993.
The state ought to be embarrassed that it implicitly supports the bigots who would fire someone or deny them housing based on perceived sexual orientation. No wonder it’s afraid to have the conversation.