The Ada County courtroom where about two dozen “Add the 4 Words” protesters were sentenced Monday was packed.
Too bad there wasn’t enough seating for Idaho’s legislators. They would have witnessed the hearing they have refused to give gay rights advocates, who want the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” added to Idaho’s Human Rights Act.
They would have heard Magistrate Judge Michael Oths congratulate the demonstrators for their courage.
They would have heard Oths fittingly associate them with the American tradition of civil disobedience in the face of injustice.
They would have heard pleas from individuals whose families have suffered grievous losses because Idaho law continues to stigmatize gays and lesbians.
And they would have watched as those protesters accepted punishment for the crimes of blocking access to legislative chambers and Gov. Butch Otter’s offices.
They also would have heard the pathetically feeble complaint by the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms that the demonstrators had prevented members from doing their jobs. And removing the truants cost the Idaho State Police $24,000, which sum the protesters will pay out of their own pockets, and those of their many supporters.
The Senate, in 2012, found time to hear testimony on whether the blue heeler should be Idaho’s state dog. Why are dogs treated better than the thousands of Idahoans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
The Add the 4 Words advocates have tried for eight years to get a hearing on their proposal. Not enactment of a bill, just a hearing.
Legislators sit through testimony on measures of less gravity than human rights all the time. The Congress holds hearings less about what a witness has to say, and more about microphone time for representatives and senators who care only to hear their own voices.
In May, after legislators had gone home, a federal magistrate removed one of the fig leaves used to justify their inaction: the amendment to Idaho’s constitution blocking recognition of marriage and lesser unions between homosexuals. The county courthouses remain closed to those couples at least until a state appeal is heard in September.
But the words of U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale should be marked:
“Idaho’s marriage laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental right to marry and relegate their families to a stigmatized, second-class status without sufficient reason for doing so. These laws do not withstand any applicable level of constitutional scrutiny.”
Court after court has ruled the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause applies to Americans no matter their sexual orientation.
Discrimination is wrong. The Legislature will not hear of it and so perpetuates it.
The dignity of Monday’s court proceedings set an example lawmakers should have witnessed. There’s no reason they cannot do as much.