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If Legislature won't lead, others will

Marty Trillhaase
March 25, 2013
Lewiston Tribune

Idaho lawmakers have moved so slowly on the civil rights issue of our time that even a milestone in Boise is about to be overshadowed by events.

Wednesday, the joint House and Senate State Affairs committees listened to the kind of testimony they've avoided for years:

Retired Hewlett-Packard general manager Don Curtis Sr., told how his preconceptions have been altered by being the parent of a gay child.

Mistie Tolman described life as a second-class citizen where disclosing too much about her family life could put her job at risk.

"There is no protection for you, and you are very aware of it," she said. "You keep yourself at arm's length from everyone, especially your boss."

Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson reported how gays, fearful of being outed to their employers, don't report crimes committed against them.

The listening forum was just that - a listening forum - and nothing more. Idaho's Republican leadership is standing by its refusal to even consider providing gays, lesbians and transgender people with the same human rights protections Idaho's anti-discrimination law already extends to others on the basis of age, disability, race, color, national origin, religion or sex.

So in Idaho a gay person can be fired - or denied employment or promotion.

A lesbian couple can be refused an apartment.

And a transgender person could be excluded from public accommodations.

That hardly helps the Gem State compete for the best and brightest against 21 other states - including Washington - where the dignity and rights of all citizens is a matter of law.

As these lawmakers talk, Idaho's landscape is changing before them. In 2011, Sandpoint pioneered its own ordinance protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community.

Boise passed its own ordinance in 2012.

Earlier this year, Ketchum followed suit.

Moscow is posed to adopt its own human rights ordinance next month. So is Pocatello.

Idaho Falls and Lewiston may not be far behind. In Lewiston, for instance, the city council already has demonstrated a 5-to-2 voting bloc in favor of extending on-the-job protections to its own gay employees. Meanwhile, activists are urging the city council to do more.

Sometime soon, it's conceivable that a majority of Idaho's citizens will be covered by a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Many won't. When cities do the work of states, they leave behind a patchwork. Civil rights are respected in some places and bleed away elsewhere.

Plus many of these cities are resorting to harsher remedies. Violate the ordinance in Sandpoint or Boise and you could end up facing a misdemeanor conviction, fines and jail time.

Idaho Human Rights law involves civil remedies.

Plus the people who administer it at the Human Rights Commission have years of experience and expertise resolving disputes. Local police and city administrators will be learning on the job.

This is happening because Idaho's cities - and the people who reside in those communities - are overtaking their state lawmakers on a matter of conscience. There's a national transformation underway and they are part of it. Last year, 54 percent told the Gallup Poll they found gay and lesbian relationships to be morally acceptable.

Gay rights is so important to younger voters they may abandon the Republican Party over it.

"Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays - and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be," declared the GOP's recent autopsy on its 2012 national election defeat.

Wednesday's legislative hearing may be the opening round toward what will eventually be passage of a state law guaranteeing the civil rights of all Idahoans. But the longer Idaho's conservative leaders wait to act, the less it will matter.

Originally posted at

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