When the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 last week in favor of legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, 10 Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill, but Idaho’s two senators both voted against it. “Number one, this is a state’s rights issue,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said. “Number two, this bill made insufficient provisions for employers who have First Amendment constitutional protections to exercise their religious beliefs.”
The bill, which would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, included an exemption for religious organizations. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed an amendment to sharply expand that exemption to include a wide array of entities with some religious affiliation, but it was voted down, 55-43. Toomey still voted in favor of the bill, however.
Sen. Mike Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern, said, “Sen. Crapo voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, on the basis that he has long been opposed to the expansion of the federal government’s power to handle such matters when states have a better handle on how to rightfully handle these issues, just as several local municipalities in Idaho have begun to do.”
Earlier in the week, Crapo said he supports allowing local ordinances to ban such discrimination, which conflicts with a resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee over the summer urging the state Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities.
“Moreover, a sweeping federal statute would not offer proper protections for religious liberties,” Nothern said. “Sen. Crapo believes all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity. … Workers should be hired and their employment maintained on the basis of their skills, abilities and how they accomplish their appointed tasks.”
The bill may not get a vote in the House, where Speaker John Boehner opposes it; you can read my full column here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.