February 20, 2014 in Idaho

Idaho House shelves bill that would allow religion as defense against gays

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Controversial legislation that critics say would protect discrimination against gays on religious grounds was pulled from the Idaho House on Wednesday.

The House unanimously agreed to return HB 427 to committee, effectively dooming it for the year. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “It’s not coming back this session.”

More than 500 people filled the state Capitol last week to oppose the bill at a committee hearing, with many saying it would undermine local ordinances passed in seven Idaho cities – including Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Boise – to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But state Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposal was in response to a New Mexico case in which a wedding photographer was penalized after refusing to photograph a same-sex marriage ceremony.

“The intent of the bill was to provide a shield to protect the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment in light of the variety of increasing government mandates,” Luker said in a statement. “However, many misinterpreted the intent to be a sword for discrimination. I respect the concerns that I heard and therefore want to find the right language to balance those concerns.”

State lawmakers already had submitted a stack of proposed amendments a quarter-inch high, prompting Bedke to call for a “thoughtful pause.” Proposed amendments ranged from converting the bill into one to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, to one proposing that businesses be required to post signs to indicate which groups they want to exclude.

“I think if a business is going to engage in such a practice, then it should be made clear,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who submitted the sign amendment. But she added, “I don’t consider that a fix that would make the bill attractive. I think the bill in itself is not fair, to make it acceptable to discriminate.”

Luker also proposed a companion measure, HB 426, to prevent the state from revoking or suspending occupational licenses for violations that the license-holder commits for religious reasons. That bill never got a committee hearing.

An Idaho attorney general’s opinion said it likely violated both the Idaho and U.S. constitutions.

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