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Eye On Boise

Testimony: ‘End a special wrong,’ ‘Commission serves a great function,’ ‘Being gay was not a choice’

In continuing testimony tonight on the “Add the Words” bill:

Ben Wilson, a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, said, “It is unfair and not an Idaho value at all to discriminate against anyone in the employment or social marketplace. … No one here wants to undermine religion. … We seek only today to end a special wrong that exists, allowing discrimination and inflicting harm on others. And ending that special wrong I think is an Idaho value that we all hold dear. … What if people could fire you or not rent their house to you because you are Mormon or Methodist or Jewish?” He added, “The testimony that we have heard the past few days about sexual deviance and pedophiles and rapists is outrageous, and does not reflect this community that’s before you today.” He said studies show the vast majority of pedophiles are straight, but that doesn’t mean people should discriminate against all straight people.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked Wilson if he could guarantee that members of the LBGT community won’t sue members of the religious community if the bill passes. “There’s a clash of ideas that takes place in the public square,” Crane said. “Walls begin to go up, and suspicion and distrust take place.” Wilson said, “I think we’ve had nine years that we’ve tried to have that conversation take place here in this building. And it’s been denied. And so I respect your concerns, and I wish that those concerns had been addressed here a long time ago.”

Marilyn Shuler, the retired longtime director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, said she thought it would be helpful to fill the lawmakers in on how the commission works. “The commission serves a great function in the state of Idaho. You rarely hear criticism,” she said. “There are all kinds of extraordinarily sensitive cases that come to the commission daily. They handle all kinds of things. They do it confidentially, privately. It’s done to try and resolve disputes before they ever become lawsuits. People can go to court, but very few do. The surveys are run after the commission closes a case, and the people who have been accused of having discriminated, they feel that our processes are fair. You don’t need an attorney. It’s not a scary process, and the commission tries to weed out frivolous complaints at the beginning.”

Shuler, who said she supports HB 2, told the committee, “I’ve thought this has been a wonderful two days. I appreciate what you’re doing very much.”

Joseph Ambrose Christopherson noted earlier testimony asking if next someone would want to protect people who are short or bald. “They don’t get fired or evicted from housing for being bald or hairy, unless they have like 10 cats in their apartment,” he said to laughter. “I was fired simply because I was gay – simply because I was gay. No, being gay was not a choice, nor was it part of my diabolical plan or some gay agenda. … Yes, you can choose your religion. I couldn’t choose to be gay. I was born this way, I didn’t ask for this. Now I accept it because I love myself. I’m just someone who wants to be honest, to have love, and to not be fired for being gay.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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