Idaho will not be adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to its antidiscrimination law this year.
After hearing testimony for three days on a bill, which supporters dubbed “Add the Words,” that would have amended state law to include these characteristics, the House State Affairs Committee this morning voted 13-4 not to advance the bill to the full House, the Idaho Statesman reports. All Republicans on the committee voted against it, all Democrats for it.
“Some of the legislators who voted to defeat the bill expressed their willingness to support a future compromise bill,” the Statesman reports. It’s unclear exactly what “compromise” would be involved, although it would probably address religious objections to such a law.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat and supporter of the bill, had attempted to dispel some of those concerns by seeking a written opinion from the state attorney general’s office. The opinion, signed by Brian Kane, the assistant chief deputy attorney general, said the bill would not force clergy members to perform same-sex marriages or interfere with any state resident’s right to express any opinion on homosexuality.
Rubel also asked if any federal law protected LGBT Idahoans against employment or housing discrimination, and he replied that it was impossible to answer this with a “simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because the relevant law is not settled.”
In truth, there is no federal law that prohibits such discrimination, although executive orders from President Obama and the policies of some federal agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development, ban anti-LGBT discrimination in certain circumstances.
During the 21 hours of testimony presented to the committee Monday through Wednesday, 134 people spoke in favor of the bill and 54 against, while two speakers were neutral, the Statesman reports. The Boise-based newspaper, the largest in Idaho, endorsed the bill in a Wednesday editorial.
Still, the measure was not expected to get through the committee because of the panel’s Republican majority. Some supporters saw the hearing, which advocates had sought for nine years with lobbying and protests, as the first step in a process that will take several more years before such a bill could pass. And those backing the legislation vowed to fight on.
“Although we are happy to hear that some members of the committee are committed to showing more compassion, it’s not enough and we are very disappointed in the committee’s vote,” Cindy Gross, chairwoman of the Add the Words campaign, said in a press release. “We will see the Human Rights Act updated in Idaho, and we’ll keep working on this issue until all hardworking Idahoans are protected. With these powerful stories [from those testifying] our legislators can no longer claim that there isn’t discrimination in Idaho.”
Meanwhile, the Statesman found itself in a controversy over the bill, and not regarding its editorial. The Wednesday edition carried an ad in the form of a sticky note on the front page, reading in part “Add No Words” and marked “paid for by Lance Wells,” an Idaho resident. In response to objections to the ad, publisher Mike Jung issued a statement saying the paper’s policy is to “offer the same advertising opportunities regardless of the opinion shared within the advertisement,” although it reserves the right “to refuse advertisements that include slanderous or defaming statements.” He added, “I would have accepted the same Post-It note if it had read, ‘Add the Words, Stop the Bullying.’”