An array of protesters from “Add the 4 Words Idaho” were in the Capitol rotunda today, carrying signs about ways specific Idahoans have suffered because of discrimination or harassment over their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gov. Butch Otter walked by a large number of protesters as he left the House chamber after delivering his State of the State address today.
Asked about it at his post-address news conference, Otter said he didn’t engage with the protesters. “We’ve looked at different options,” he said. “One of the options I asked folks to look at was what Utah did,” he said, referring to Utah’s legislation regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. “And that’s all I can do – ask ‘em to look at it. It’s up to them.”
Idaho lawmakers have long been asked to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on those bases, but the bill’s never made it out of committee. After nine years of refusing, lawmakers held a full hearing on the “Add the Words” bill in 2015, and heard three days of emotional testimony about the experiences of gay and transgender Idahoans, along with comments from the bill’s opponents. Then, the House State Affairs Committee killed the bill on a party-line vote, with all the panel’s majority Republicans voting against it. In subsequent protests, dozens were arrested at the state Capitol.
Later that same year, the Utah Legislature passed legislation to protect gays from discrimination in housing and employment that also included exemptions for religious organizations and protections for religious freedom.