David Adler: Coeur d’Alene council shows courage with gay rights ordinance

June 6, 2013 

Members of the Coeur d’Alene City Council on Tuesday night joined statewide leaders in the promotion of human rights in Idaho when they voted to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination against their residents in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Like colleagues in four other Idaho cities that have enacted similar measures — Boise, Sandpoint, Moscow and Ketchum — they demonstrated once again that the real leaders on issues of civil rights in the Gem State are found not in the Statehouse, but in the neighborhoods and community centers where patriots gather to promote the concept of liberty.

Discrimination on any basis — race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity — tears at the fabric of our democracy, a system in which we expect that rational discussion, not points of prejudice, will guide decision making on matters of public policy.

Discrimination against women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and gays has plagued America since its birth and represents a form of domestic terrorism that requires swift and sustained remedies.

Our nation has made considerable progress over the past half-century in combating elements of discrimination and prejudice through enactment of civil rights statutes and judicial decisions, as well as programs to educate the citizenry on the irrationality and dangers of discrimination, but much work remains to be done.

American women have crashed various glass ceilings, but significant hurdles, including equal pay for equal work, remain. Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans have witnessed the passage of legislation and the creation of programs designed to mitigate the evil nature of discrimination, but they remain among those segments of our country that are underemployed, undereducated and underpaid. More energy must be summoned to improve the lot in life of persons of color.

Gay citizens, long the victims of impoverished beliefs, crude stereotypes and cruel, ignorant prejudices, have seen victories in recent years, but there remains the need to eliminate the caste system that characterizes these hard-working, productive and talented Americans as ­second-class citizens.

When a city, like a state, refuses to prohibit discrimination, it effectively endorses it.

Coeur d’Alene City Council members recognized the truth of that principle when they cast their votes to ensure that within city limits, discrimination grounded on sexual orientation and gender identity would not be tolerated in the critical areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. The alternative would have been the erection of a billboard that declared: Gays and lesbians not welcome here.

It is inconceivable for Coeur d’Alene, or any other city in Idaho that is interested in promoting public safety, recruiting businesses and industries, courting tourists, and seeking talented, productive workers, to close its doors on the crude premises that undergird discrimination and prejudice.

Fifty years ago, Americans suffered the murder of Medgar Evans, a courageous civil rights worker who was gunned down in his own driveway by an avowed racist. His goal of integration was one that we view today as a given, but it was in his day a mountain that defied the best climbers. At that juncture, legislative protection for gays would have defied expectations.

In our time, we celebrate the progress that we have made in our battle against discrimination, but it is a celebration tempered by the awareness that we have, to borrow from Robert Frost, “many miles to go before we sleep.” Our commitment to human rights in Idaho and across our nation cannot afford the slumber of well-meaning citizens, inside and outside the governmental arenas, who long for an end to prejudice and discrimination in all of its manifestations.

The Idaho Statehouse is quiet these days; the legislative chambers empty. Our representatives are surely working on various matters, including proposals for the next session. Let us hope that discussion is underway finally to enact the “add the words” proposal to bring state power to bear against the forces of discrimination. If they need encouragement and courage, they can look to the Lake City.

Adler is the director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, where he holds appointment as the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the presidency and the Bill of Rights.

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