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Idaho shows its two faces

David Adler
March 29, 2013
Idaho Falls Post Register

A state's anti-discrimination policy is the face it shows to the world. Idaho legislators' continued refusal to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to protect gay, lesbian and transgender citizens from discrimination presents to the world a two-faced policy that is difficult to view.

Members of the LGBT community pay taxes, bear all the obligations of citizenship and defend our country through service in the military, and yet they are denied legal protections in employment and housing extended to heterosexuals. This is the creation of a caste system, the erection of separate but equal.

The Legislature's position is tragic. There is in this act of discrimination, echoes of legislatures past, the voice and rationale that defended Jim Crow and legalized racism.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions outlawing school segregation and laws barring blacks and whites from marrying rebuked the objections of legislators who weren't "comfortable" with the idea of mixing races in education and marriage. In each celebrated civil rights case, the Supreme Court rejected the claims of those who would impose their prejudices on others and deny liberties and opportunities to their fellow citizens.

Idaho legislators who, for reasons of their own prejudices, would ask their fellow citizens -- gays and lesbians -- to perform the duties of citizenship and yet deny them fundamental legal protections are engaged in the worst sort of invidious discrimination. In an earlier time, their forbears in Alabama had ordered Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.

Across two American centuries, discrimination and prejudice have been the scourge of basic human and civil rights. There is great irony in the fact that an aborning nation proclaimed to the world in a Declaration of Independence grounded in fundamental natural rights, yet ignored the rights of many human beings. But we have made progress.

The absence of reason deranges our democracy. Ours is a system premised on the principle of reasoned, rationale debate. Yet, prejudice, which is irrational in every way, shape and form, tears at the fabric of our democracy. On occasion, Idaho has had an unfortunate historical relationship with extremism and intolerance. In 1942, Idaho's Attorney General declared that America is a "white man's country," and called for the internment of Japanese-American citizens in detention camps. In more recent times, however, Idahoans have rallied to the cause of human rights and resisted the racism and prejudice of neo-Nazis who believed to have found, erroneously as it turned out, fertile soil in northern Idaho.

Today, our legislators are once more traveling the road of discrimination. The perception of Idaho as a state known for intolerance toward some of its own citizens compounds the problems associated with our reputation as a state that is indifferent to education.

That is the face Idaho wears to the world.

Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the presidency and the Bill of Rights.

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The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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