A state's anti-discrimination policy is the face it shows to the world. Idaho legislators' continued refusal to amend the Human Rights Act to protect gay, lesbian and transgender citizens from discrimination, for reasons of their sexual orientation and gender identity, presents to the world a two-faced policy that is difficult to view.
Members of the LGBT community pay their fair share of taxes, bear all the obligations of citizenship and defend our country through service in the military, and yet they are denied legal protections in employment and housing extended to heterosexuals.
The Legislature's position is tragic. There is in this act of discrimination the echoes of legislators past, the voice and rationale that defended Jim Crow and legalized racism.
When the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, it rebuked the whine of southern lawmakers who were "uncomfortable" with the idea of extending basic rights to black children. When the court in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, struck down state miscegenation laws that barred whites and blacks from marrying, it rejected the objections of legislators who weren't "comfortable" with the idea of mixed marriage. In each of the celebrated civil rights cases, the Supreme Court rejected the claims of those who would impose their prejudices on others to bar liberties and opportunities to their fellow citizens.
Idaho legislators who, for reasons of their own prejudices, would ask their fellow citizens to perform the duties of citizenship, and yet deny them fundamental legal protections, are engaged in the worst sort of invidious discrimination. In an earlier time, their forbears in Alabama had ordered Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.
An earlier generation of Americans rallied their countrymen to the cause of revolution through the cry of "no taxation without representation." Those colonists recognized the fundamental unfairness of asking people to pay taxes to a government in which they had no voice. Many of our legislators who oppose extension of basic freedoms to their gay brothers and sisters are among the first to invoke the values of our founders. In that spirit, should they shout "no taxation without legal protections"?
Across two American centuries, discrimination and prejudice have been the scourge of fundamental human and civil rights. There is more than a little irony in the fact that an aborning nation proclaimed to the world a Declaration of Independence grounded on fundamental natural rights, yet ignored the rights of many human beings. But we have made progress.
In each phase of our nation's deep and tragic collapse in the face of crude prejudice and discrimination - against African-Americans in the practice of slavery, segregation and second-class treatment; against Native Americans; against those who traveled to our shores in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their families, including Chinese, Japanese and Irish; against Jews, Mormons and Quakers; and against women, the only humans capable of giving birth to lawmakers who would treat them as inferior creatures - there was always one constant, the absence of reason.
The absence of reason deranges our democracy. Ours is a system founded on the premise of reasoned, rationale debate. Yet discrimination, which is irrational in every way, shape and form, tears at the fabric of our democracy. On occasion, Idaho has had an unfortunate historical relationship with extremism and intolerance. In 1942, Idaho's attorney general declared that America is a "white man's country," and joined the chorus of voices calling for the internment of Japanese-Americans in detention camps. In recent times, however, Idahoans have rallied to the cause of human rights and resisted the racism and prejudice of neo-Nazis who believed to have found, erroneously as it turned out, fertile soil in northern Idaho.
Today, our legislators are once more traveling the road of discrimination. The perception of Idaho as a state known for intolerance toward some of its own citizens compounds the problems associated with our reputation as a state that is indifferent to education. That is the face Idaho wears to the world.
David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the presidency and the Bill of Rights.