Idaho lawmakers reject sexual orientation protections

Posted on 24 Feb 2009 at 12:32am
By Sarah D. Wire Associated Press

Supporters say fight to include protections for lesbians, gays not over

BOISE, Idaho — A state Senate committee on Friday, Feb. 20 rejected a proposal to forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

About 50 supporters of the proposed change to the Idaho Human Rights Act filed quietly out of the room, some in tears, after the Senate State Affairs Committee voice vote. Similar bills have been rejected in the past.

Idaho’s 1968 Human Rights Act currently forbids workplace and housing discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin or mental or physical disability. The measure defeated Friday would have prohibited discrimination in employment, education and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Co-Sponsor Sen. Charles Coiner, R-Twin Falls, compared the gay, lesbian and transgender community’s push to be included in the law to the push to forbid discrimination based on physical or mental disability.

"Their movement is a few years behind but it’s moving forward," Coiner said. "We’ve got work to do."

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, said because there is no due process for those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community who feel they are victims of discrimination, they "endure in silence."

"By virtue of its omission [from the law] many employers and many people feel that it’s OK" to discriminate, said LeFavour, another co-sponsor.

A June 2008 study from the Social Science Research Center at Boise State University found that 63 percent of respondents thought it should be illegal to fire someone based on their perceived sexual orientation.

LeFavour said there are more than 40,000 gay, lesbian and transgendered people in Idaho.

Only two senators — Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, and Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston — were heard to vote for the proposal.

Coiner told The Associated Press that the gay and lesbian community would have to spend much more time lobbying next year because some lawmakers don’t understand the issues.

Coiner said he and LeFavour can’t do all the lobbying alone.

LeFavour said gay and lesbian groups will likely attempt to speak with legislators more often next year.

"They want to do everything they can to pass this legislation," she said.

She said a public education campaign put on by gay and lesbian groups has prompted at least four cities — Troy, Ketchum, Moscow and Boise — to pass local laws protecting gay and lesbian city workers.

Considering the number of cities and workplaces "that have recognized that it’s better business policy to have clear policies in place, it’s surprising that the Legislature hasn’t," LeFavour said.

In 2007, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, sponsored a successful initiative that amended the Idaho Constitution to ban gay marriages and civil unions. More than 63 percent of voters backed the initiative.

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