Idaho Republicans reject gay rights measure

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 29, 2015 6:01 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A bill granting job and housing protections for gay and transgender people in socially conservative Idaho was stalled by Republican lawmakers on Thursday after three days of emotionally charged hearings that drew more than 1,000 residents to the Capitol.

A Republican-led House of Representatives committee voted 13-4 along party lines to prevent legislation that would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's nondiscrimination law from being voted on in the broader chamber.

In voicing opposition to the bill, unlikely to be taken up again this year, some Republican lawmakers referenced biblical passages while others contended the measure threatened to cement the division between gays and heterosexuals.

"If we pass the bill today as it is worded, it would create a barrier between you folks in favor of adding the words and the so-called straight community and it will be a giant step backwards, not forwards," said Republican Representative Ken Andrus.

Gay rights advocates have sought for nine years to persuade the Republican-controlled legislature to take up the proposal, a so-called Add the Words campaign that culminated last year in the arrest of protesters blocking access to legislative chambers in the Capitol in Boise.

The Idaho Human Rights Act already bans discrimination in employment, housing and in places open to the public like retail stores on such attributes as race, sex, color and religion.

Representative John McCrostie, a Democrat, urged lawmakers on Thursday to vote in favor of the provision, saying that as a gay man he would likely be mistreated at certain restaurants in Idaho "if I walked in with my husband."

More than 20 hours of emotional testimony delivered by gay and transgender people during hearings that began Monday included an account by a transgender teen who said she was called "it" by teachers and teased by classmates to the point she had contemplated suicide.

Republican lawmakers said they worried the measure would lead to lawsuits against those who refused services to gay and transgender people based on religious beliefs. 

Ten Idaho cities have adopted nondiscrimination clauses similar to the one halted Thursday and a federal appeals court in October struck down a ban on gay matrimony in Idaho.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Beech)