Hundreds pack Idaho hearing on gay rights

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 26, 2015 7:40 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A measure before the Idaho legislature that would grant job and housing protections for gay and transgender people drew more than 1,000 residents to the statehouse in Boise on Monday to voice their support or opposition.

Gay rights advocates have sought for nine years to persuade the Republican-controlled legislature in the socially conservative state to take up the proposed addition to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

The so-called "Add the words" campaign culminated last year in a series of protests at the statehouse that saw activists arrested for blocking access to legislative chambers.

The Idaho legislature's Republican leaders pledged to give the measure a hearing this year but were noncommittal about the likelihood of it ultimately being approved.

A state House panel resumed taking testimony on the legislation on Monday evening after accepting hours of commentary in the morning. An additional hearing was planned for Tuesday to accommodate the more than 500 people seeking to speak in favor of or against the provision.

The measure would include sexual orientation and gender identity in a ban spelled out in the state's human rights law on discrimination in employment, housing and in places open to the public like retail stores.

Supporters of the legislation say it is long overdue. Idaho last year was forced by federal court rulings to legalize gay marriage in decisions Idaho's Republican governor and attorney general have petitioned to appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's time. It's past time to give us the same rights as anyone else," gay rights advocate Madelynn Taylor said in a telephone interview.

The U.S. Navy veteran successfully sued last year to have the ashes of her late lesbian spouse interred in an Idaho military cemetery where Taylor intends her own remains to be placed. She was one of an overflow crowd estimated by authorities at more than 1,000 who attended the hearing on the bill Monday before the House State Affairs Committee.

Opponents like Idaho resident Julie Staley urged lawmakers to reject the measure as a form of what she called reverse discrimination. She added about the protections, "Why the need?"

Ten Idaho cities have adopted a nondiscrimination clause similar to the one that must be approved by the committee to go to the floor for a vote by the full House.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)