Opinion

SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2013

Editorial: Washington Senate GOP’s plan would set back gay rights

Discrimination isn’t an urge we’re familiar with, but it must be a powerful one.

A group of Republican state senators, including Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, has lined up behind a bill to ensure that those who want to withhold services on the basis of sexual orientation would be free to do so. The bill stems from the incident in which a Richland florist refused to supply flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Attorney General Bob Ferguson tried to work it out with the business, but ultimately filed a lawsuit.

At the time he said, “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

Simple and fair.

The florist cited religion for declining the sale, but Senate Bill 5927 would also include objections based on philosophical differences or matters of conscience. The measure would not apply to customers who fall into federally protected classes, such as race, religion or disability. Sexual orientation is protected in state law but not federal law, so there’s no mistaking the target of this bill.

Washington voters have weighed in repeatedly on these human rights issues by passing initiatives that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and by sanctioning gay marriage. It took the state more than three decades to reach this point. Now, 11 senators want to undo those hard-fought gains with a late-session bill.

It’s odd that this bill has materialized in a Republican-run Senate that’s been obsessed with limiting bills to the topics of jobs, education and the budget. Social issues have been off limits. If the Senate Majority Coalition is consistent, it will kill this bill.

Meanwhile, Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy wants his hometown to join the growing number of Idaho cities that have banned discrimination in hiring, housing and public accommodations. Because the Idaho Legislature has refused to budge, some Idaho cities want it known they support equality. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations supports the move.

Sandpoint was the first Idaho city to adopt such an ordinance. Boise, Moscow and Ketchum have followed suit. Pocatello recently shot down a similar ordinance. That vote in Moscow didn’t come without recriminations. The Latah County Republican Party recently voted to censure its chairman, City Councilor Walter Steed, for voting for the sexual orientation ordinance.

We applaud Idaho political leaders for taking on this contentious human rights issue. They are following the same path Washington cities took when our Legislature kept saying no.

We suspect the Senate bill in Olympia will die this time and then be resurrected next year. It’s a fool’s errand because public sentiment is increasingly on the side of equality when it comes to gay rights issues.

It took Washington state human rights advocates 29 years to knock down the first discrimination barrier statewide with the kind of measure just introduced in Coeur d’Alene and adopted in other Idaho cities. The undeniable trend is toward equality. There’s no turning back.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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