While Republican-controlled legislatures across the country are considering bills that would ensure discrimination against LGBT people can legally take place, lawmakers in Idaho are considering protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time.
This week, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee is holding an epic public hearing on a bill that would “add the four words” — sexual orientation and gender identity — to the state’s Human Rights Act. It would protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment, and education throughout the state. Over 600 people signed up to testify, and the hearing will continue Tuesday. Interestingly, support and opposition for the bill are fairly evenly split.
Idaho is one of the many states that now has marriage equality for same-sex couples but where LGBT people can still be legally discriminated against based on their identity. Several cities across the state have passed LGBT-inclusive protections, but none exist at the state level. The inherent conflict already came up last fall when a for-profit wedding chapel refused to marry same-sex couples, but the city of Coeur d’Alene granted the business a pass to its LGBT protections because it was a “religious corporation.”
LGBT protections have come up in the Idaho legislature multiple times over the past decade, but have never given any consideration. For example, in 2012, the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee rejected such a bill 7-2 before it could even be printed, preventing it from even receiving a hearing like what is transpiring this week. Last year, a stalwart campaign advocating to “Add The Words, Idaho” began engaging in civil disobedience — primarily sit-ins in the Statehouse — to raise awareness about the lacking protections. In February 2014 alone, there were over 122 arrests of protesters challenging lawmakers to consider the legislation. Those efforts have been led by Nicole LeFavour, a former state senator.
Despite the big step of this year’s hearing, the protections are still not likely to advance. Republicans outflank Democrats on the House committee 13-4, and the split in testimonies will likely give them the cover they need to reject the protections, even if many of the opponents are from out-of-state. These opponents are citing the cases of businesses across the country who are being held accountable for refusing service to same-sex couples, indicating that they believe it’s an infringement on their religious liberty. The Family Research Council, a prominent anti-LGBT hate group, even sent their own Peter Sprigg to testify that the protections constituted “regulatory burdens” and that they should be opposed “by anyone who believes in freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of belief, a free market economy and limited government.”
Still, with many states preparing to consider bills that would enshrine discrimination against LGBT people, the fact that Idaho is even looking in the other direction is refreshing.