Eight years into quest, Idahoans still pressing to 'Add the Words'

October 21, 2013 

Efforts to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity have failed in the socially conservative Idaho Legislature, but momentum to "Add the Words" to the Idaho Human Rights Act may be building.

To that end, supporters scheduled five town hall meetings this summer and fall in eastern and southwest Idaho. The last two forums are Tuesday at Meridian City Hall and Wednesday at the College of Idaho's Blatchley Hall. Both are set to run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Advocates led by Add the Words, Idaho, the ACLU of Idaho and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, hope the forums will encourage lawmakers to hold a hearing amending the Human Rights Act, which prevents workplace and housing discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin and disability.

Near the end of the 2013 legislative session in March, advocates organized a well-received information hearing in the joint House and Senate State Affairs committees. No vote was taken, but the two committees listened to proponents including former Hewlett-Packard executive Don Curtis, Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, has said he won't bring an "Add the Words" bill to the committee unless prospects for passage are good. McKenzie said after the March meeting that he didn't know whether the calculus had changed, adding, "But I believe when you have dialogue like we had today, that's what potentially leads to changed minds."

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, a member of the Senate committee, also welcomed the civil discussion.

"I don't know that it's going to lead to something next year or down the road," he said. "I do think it's healthy to gain an understanding and appreciation of one another."

Since March, the national landscape has changed considerably, adding momentum to civil rights protections for gay people.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, clearing the way for same-sex couples to receive government benefits. The court also let a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stand, effectively legalizing gay marriage in California.

Just today, New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, a prospective presidential candidate, dropped a court appeal and gay couples began marrying in the Garden State. Now, 14 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.

In 2006, Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment proposed by conservative lawmakers that bars gay marriage and civil unions of any kind. Sixty-three percent of voters approved House Joint Resolution 2. That topic is not on the table as gay-rights groups are focused on amending the Human Rights Act before tackling the far tougher prospect of repealing a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in both houses and voter approval.

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