On Feb. 10, more than 250 people crammed into a Boise hearing room to listen to lawmakers discuss a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity. The “Add the Words” campaign sought to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act beyond the categories of race, religion and gender.
It took five minutes for the Senate State Affairs Committee to kill their hopes, with all but two members voting against the introduction and printing of a bill, despite an emotional plea from Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai. So, Idaho landlords and employers can still legally discriminate against gay and lesbian renters and workers.
If the “Add the Words” advocates wanted to witness a debate on discrimination, they should’ve returned on the following Monday and headed over to the House State Affairs Committee to witness lawmakers go back and forth on whether the blue heeler should be named the state dog. The pros and cons sounded like they could’ve come from a human rights debate (in another state, of course).
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “I’m bringing to you a piece of legislation this family had brought to me and have asked for several years that we take a look at.”
Similarly, gay rights proponents have tried for several years to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act but have never gotten out of the starting gate.
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said of the blue heeler bill, “I appreciate the presentation here and the history that’s contained here, but I guess I always have trouble with these kinds of bills. There’s lots of dog lovers in the state, and they have lots of kinds of dogs that they love, and I hate to discriminate one over another.”
Yeah, wouldn’t want to give blue heelers “special rights” or discriminate against other dog lovers. Perhaps dog lovers should be added to the Human Rights Act.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, wasn’t feeling the love for these Aussie cattle dogs: “The worst dogs to get in sheep, and from my experience, I’ve lost thousands and thousands of dollars. … German shepherds and black labs and blue heelers are the worst.”
So, in the end, the blue heelers were defeated on an 11-8 vote. But their advocates did get more support than gay and lesbian citizens and the courtesy of an actual debate.
Rip Van Winkles. A question for those who want the contraceptives coverage requirement rescinded for all health care plans: “Did you enjoy that long nap?”
The original federal ruling that put birth control prescriptions on a level playing field with Viagra, and set the stage for the Obama administration’s recent actions, was issued a dozen years ago. Twenty-eight states have passed laws that require insurers to include contraceptives in their health care plans. In Washington state, some Catholic-affiliated institutions with secular missions sought waivers but were denied.
In an editorial from 10 years ago, I wrote: “The groundwork for the state’s ruling was laid when the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in December 2000 that omitting birth control coverage would be in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Following that decision, a federal judge ruled that Bartell Drugs, a Seattle-based chain, was discriminating against its female employees for not offering contraceptives in its drug plan for non-union workers.”
After the EEOC ruling, President George W. Bush was inaugurated, Republicans took control of Congress and the ruling was … left alone.
Maybe you remember that awkward moment when The Spokesman-Review reported that Providence Health & Services added the coverage in 2004 but left its workers in the dark for two years. The company ended up reimbursing employees who had paid for birth control.
Or maybe you don’t remember that, because it wasn’t the subject of around-the-clock outrage. Seems odd that the defenders of religious liberty would’ve all nodded off at the same time. What isn’t odd is their awakening in an election year.
See No Evil. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff noted that while Christian Science advocates spiritual remedies over medical ones, the Christian Science Monitor offers a standard health care plan for employees.