Idaho Republican Party leaders are calling on the state Legislature to invalidate local city ordinances that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation - like the one Coeur d’Alene passed after an emotional community debate just two weeks ago.
Six Idaho cities have passed such non-discrimination ordinances in the past year and a half, and a seventh, Idaho Falls, is looking into one now; the Idaho GOP wants them halted.
The party central committee’s resolution isn’t binding on the Legislature, which is 81 percent Republican. “It’s a way for the people to make their expressions known to the Legislature,” said Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson. “We let ‘em know that this is the way that the majority of the party feels.”
Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem countered, “The Republican Party itself appears to be somewhat fractured, so I’m not assuming that it would get full Republican support. … I would assume that there would certainly be some that would recognize the local rights.”
Coeur d’Alene’s city council passed the ordinance on a 5-1 vote.
Cornel Rasor, a former Bonner County commissioner and chairman of the Idaho GOP’s resolutions committee, said, “I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu … he’s not producing what I want in my office.”
Rasor presented the resolution on behalf of a constituent in Bonner County; another similar one was proposed by Idaho County’s GOP central committee, and the two were combined into one. It was approved with little debate at the central committee’s summer meeting over the weekend in McCall.
“Resolved, that the Idaho Republican State Central Committee recommends that our legislators support Idaho’s current anti-discrimination laws and policies and enact a law that would make unenforceable any municipal ordinances that would seek to expand categories of prohibited discrimination beyond current state anti-discrimination laws and policies,” the resolution states.
The Idaho Human Rights Act now bans discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, disability and more. But lawmakers have resisted efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that law.
“If a guy has a particular predilection and keeps it to himself, that’s fine,” Rasor said. “But if he wants to use my business as a platform for his lifestyle, why should I have to subsidize that? And that’s what these anti-discrimination laws do.”
Tony Stewart, a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, a retired North Idaho College political scientist and a major backer of Coeur d’Alene’s ordinance, disagreed.
“If the Legislature was to pass a law in Idaho voiding all of those cities’ ordinances, they would be sending a nationwide message that the LGBT community is really not welcome in Idaho and they can be discriminated against in jobs and housing,” Stewart said. “It would be a disastrous message.”
Because Idaho has no statewide law banning such discrimination, Idahoans can now legally be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or denied service in a restaurant solely because they’re gay.
Stewart cited a case in Lewiston in which a man died, and the newspaper obituary named his live-in partner as his survivor. “And that day he got fired,” he said. “So here’s a man, a law-abiding citizen grieving over the loss of his partner, and also got fired the same day. When you deal with jobs and housing and all, kicking people to the curb and saying somehow you’re unacceptable, that’s what they’re really saying. It reminds me so much of segregation in the south.”
Rasor said, “All I see is more and more laws making things more and more difficult, more and more restrictive, more and more controlled, and I’m a liberty person. I like to be left alone. I like to make my own decision.”
Said Peterson, “Personally I don’t know anybody that’s been discriminated against on any of those issues, so I do not feel like a law should have to compel me something that I’m already willing to do. … You take away from somebody their opportunity to make a choice, to make a decision, to me that’s a serious impact upon liberty and freedom.”
Sandpoint was the first Idaho city to enact a local anti-discrimination ordinance covering sexual orientation and gender identity in December of 2011; it was followed by Boise, Ketchum, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello.
Idaho lawmakers have rejected a statewide law making that change each year for the past seven years.