BOISE — Legislators, lawyers, and leaders from the religious and LGBT communities came together for a discussion about discrimination toward both the religious and LGBT communities here in Idaho; while the 'Add The Words Idaho' controversy is stalled yet again in the Idaho statehouse.
This comes just days after a leader in the Idaho Senate made the announcement that the legislature, again, does not plan to add the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the Human Rights Act. Senator Brent Hill stated the bill does not provide enough balance to also protect the religious rights provided to residents through the Idaho Constitution. The other side believes rights to religion are already clear.
“‘Add The Words’ is a one-sided approach. It's just, it's adding protections to the LGBT community, without considering the additional needs of the religious community to have particular protections," said Senator Brent Hill, Senate Pro Tem (R) Rexburg.
It’s legislation activists have been working to persuade lawmakers to add for more than a decade.
"We had hoped to hoped to have some legislation this year... and we feel like it's time now to put some of these concepts out into the public, let the gay rights advocates, as well as the religious freedom advocates look at them, discuss them together, hopefully come together," said Senator Hill.
Which is a similar approach to what was taken in Utah when their anti-discrimination amendments were passed in 2015. Now, Senator Hill states, the legislature will not come forward with legislation this session, despite the fact that he says the legislation is already written, however, there is an ‘Add The Words’ bill at the statehouse now: Senate Bill 1015.
Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, Chair for ‘Add The Words’ Idaho, is pushing for this bill, she said, "I was turned away from my dream wedding venue because it was two women getting married. And it wasn't a religious venue, it wasn't a church or anything like that. I don't think they understand these implications are not just a thought, they are actually things that are happening."
Gaono-Lincoln stated, she believes protections for religious entities already exist, and gay rights are lacking.
But, they’re not lacking everywhere. Individual cities within Idaho have implemented anti-discrimination ordinances. Meridian became Idaho's 14th city to pass an anti-discrimination law just last year. But, activists argue that might not be good enough for Idaho. Kathy Griesmyer, Public Policy Strategist for ACLU said, "This ordinance approach is that, it's such a patchwork quilt. So you have folks who are protected during the day in Boise, who might come here for work, and then you drive home to Nampa or Caldwell and you have no protections when you go home."
ACLU argues a state law would be overarching and protect all citizens within Idaho borders.
‘Add The Words’ Idaho activists continue to support Senate Bill 1015, hoping for a hearing sometime in this 2019 session, while the other side plans to present legislation, following dialogue between both the religious and LGBT groups; which they say will likely not happen this year.