One of the disingenuous objections to gay marriage is that with the adoption of civil unions and everything-but-marriage laws, there is no need to go any further to avoid discrimination.
That would perhaps be more persuasive if those who deployed this argument were on the front lines in their communities trying to pass anti-discrimination laws, but they aren’t. And so in states like Idaho it is still legal to kick tenants out of apartments, fire workers or deny service because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The city of Sandpoint is the only Idaho community that has adopted an anti-discrimination ordinance, which took effect in January. No complaints have been registered thus far.
Even in the more progressive state of Washington, it took 29 years before the Legislature passed an anti-discrimination law in 2006. In the spring, lawmakers legalized gay marriage, and voters have a chance to affirm that choice in the fall elections.
Equal rights in Washington were hard-earned, and if gay marriage opponents were honest, they would acknowledge that longstanding discrimination didn’t bother them much. Many endorsed it. Few, if any, fought against it.
But if discrimination truly does disturb them, they have the opportunity to criticize the state-sanctioned discrimination that occurs in every Idaho community except one.
After Sandpoint adopted the ordinance in December, a woman approached Chamber of Commerce President Kate McAlister and hugged her. Through tears she told McAlister, “I want you to know that because of what you did, for the first time in all our lives I can take my partner to a Christmas party without fear of being fired.”
If that’s a story that fails to move gay marriage opponents, we have to question their commitment to equality. For many people, discrimination is an acceptable outcome if same-sex marriage can be stopped.
It’s not unusual for a business leader like McAlister to support equality, because discrimination is bad for business. For one thing, accepting gay and lesbian workers deepens the talent pool. As an attorney for eBay said at a panel discussion in Salt Lake City, “If we can’t find the right people, we’ll open shop someplace else.”
Fifteen cities and counties in conservative Utah have adopted anti-discrimination ordinances. As a result, the state is drawing more businesses that employ workers from what consultant and author Richard Florida calls “the creative class.” Workers in cutting-edge industries want to live in open-minded communities. Businesses are willing to relocate to ease recruitment.
Nobody ought to be fired for who they are. The very idea is antithetical to the libertarian principles Idaho leaders purport to uphold. We congratulate Sandpoint for taking a stand against discrimination. At the same time, it’s embarrassing for Idaho that this city stands alone.