Idaho Legalizing Discrimination?
Being gay in Idaho has never been easy, and if Republican lawmaker Lynn Luker has his way, it is going to be even tougher. Luker has introduced legislation which would make discrimination against gays and lesbians legal in the conservative state, calling it a preëmptive strike for religious freedom. Under the guidelines of the two bills, members of the LGBT community would not be the only ones subject to legalized discrimination; single mothers could fall victim, as well.
If the legislation was to become law, business owners in Idaho would be able to refuse service to same-sex couples based on “sincerely held religious belief.” Doctors would not have to treat gay patients and teachers would not have to teach gay students, and neither would suffer repercussions against their professional or occupational licenses, as long as the refusal was based on a religious tenet. Business owners could also refuse to hire individuals based on sexual orientation.
Luker’s bills do not encompass only the gay and lesbian community; these protections would extend to any group a professional may not want to serve, as long as that service constitutes a violation to the service provider’s faith.
However, the legislation would not protect individuals from termination if their actions violated a workplace policy of non-discrimination.
According to Luker, he believes that: “We as a nation have almost divorced any association with a higher being.”
While there have been no challenges in Idaho regarding refusal of services to gays and lesbians, Luker is basing the need for this legislation on two highly publicized cases out of Oregon and New Mexico, saying the point is to protect Idaho’s faithful. In both cases, business owners were penalized for refusing to serve same-sex couples because of the couples’ sexual orientation and the business owner’s beliefs. Both Oregon and New Mexico have language in their Human Rights Laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Idaho’s Human Rights Law has no such language.
Luker’s legislation comes with the backing of Idaho’s Cornerstone Family Council, a conservative Christian group closely associated with Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. According to Cornerstone’s executive director, Julie Lynde, a double standard now exists in regard to people who practice traditional religious belief systems. She believes Idaho has a duty to protect service providers and business owners before it is determined that these individuals must provide service to someone they have concluded is “contrary to their faith.”
Some concerns among other Idaho lawmakers have arisen about the broad-spectrum legislation. Representative John Gannon (D), wondered about doctors who received taxpayer monies in order to fund their educations then being able to refuse to provide care to patients based on sexual orientation. Monica Hopkins, the executive director of the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the legislation a “solution searching for a problem.”
Although gays and lesbians are at the center of the bills to legalize discrimination in Idaho, which received a unanimous passing in committee, it could also affect other members of the state’s population. A male educator could refuse to teach female students based on religious belief. A doctor could refuse to accept unwed mothers as patients if having a child out of wedlock was contrary to that doctor’s faith.
Luker is introducing this legislation at a time when the national opinion regarding same-sex marriage is changing. According to a Gallup poll in May 2013, over 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex unions should be legal. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages.
It is well realized that Idaho is a traditionally conservative state with a substantial Latter Day Saints (LDS) population; however, even the LDS Church has softened its stance on homosexuality. The church, which had been a formidable backer of California’s Proposition 8, has recently stated it recognizes that homosexuality is not a choice. It has called for compassion and non-discriminatory treatment for the gay community, although the LDS Church maintains its stance on what it considers traditional marriage.
Idaho is not the only state to introduce this type of legislation as a response to the rulings in Oregon and New Mexico. Arizona, South Dakota and Kansas are all seeking to legalize the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, as well as others, based on religious belief.
By Heather Pilkinton