Guest editorial: Idahoans condemned to repeat their history

From the Lewiston Tribune

Boiled down to its essence, our Declaration of Independence asserts that government does not bestow fundamental human rights.

We are born with the right to vote.

The right to move about.

The right to speak.

The right to worship.

The right to marry.

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” states the Declaration.

Why can’t Idaho get it?

This is a place where the majority has no qualms about using the brutish hand of government to declare who has rights and - who does not.

Right from the start.

In 1890, the founding fathers brandished the Idaho Constitution as a weapon, depriving Mormons of the right to vote, hold office and sit on juries.

The same went for Chinese, people of Mongolian descent and Indians who “had not severed their tribal relations. …”

The federal government stopped them. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution said no state could deprive its citizens of these fundamental rights.

But there the state charter stood, frozen with those notions etched upon it. Over time, lawmakers and voters formally removed one odious section after another. Voters repealed the anti-Mormon language in 1982 - 92 years later. But even that embarrassed the state’s history because 100,113 voters, 34.3 percent, wanted to leave the measure intact.

The offensive passages have been airbrushed out of the current version of the Idaho Constitution. Unless you have a legal scholar’s help, you can’t find it.

But Idahoans - including the descendents of those who were oppressed so long ago - chose to ignore their own history. In 2006, they were so certain of their inherent superiority that two-thirds of the Idaho House and Senate - followed by 282,386 voters or 63.35 percent - declared “a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

If you were straight, the blessings of marriage were yours: rights of parentage, community property, inheritance, pensions, health care and taxes.

If you were gay, Idaho would stand in your way. Want to adopt? OK, as long as the judge was sympathetic. Inheritance? Draw up a will. Medical decisions for your spouse? Get a power of attorney - and keep renewing it.

Even as Idaho debated this idea, the outcome was clear enough.

Beginning with Massachusetts in 2004, states were recognizing same-sex marriages. Public attitudes, especially among young people, were trending toward the support of same-sex unions.

Eventually, same-sex marriage would be part of the American mainstream, leaving Idaho with another blemish on its constitutional record.

Ever since, the dominos have been falling. Washington voters approved same-sex marriage in 2012. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. Judges from Oklahoma to Utah have declared the right to marry as fundamental as the right to vote.

Perhaps the only surprise in U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale’s ruling striking down Idaho’s constitutional amendment was how quickly it came - less than eight years after it had passed.

“This case asks a basic and enduring question about the essence of American government: Whether the will of the majority, based as it often is on sincere beliefs and democratic consensus, may trump the rights of the minority,” Dale wrote Tuesday. “… Idaho’s marriage laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.”

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has stayed Dale’s ruling, but does anyone doubt where this is headed?

So here we are once again brought into the light of human dignity and freedom by the unshakable faith first expressed in 1776 - but shackled to a prejudicial state constitutional provision that our children and grandchildren will read with a mixture of curiosity and shame.

That is, until in 10 or 20 or 92 years, they, too, vote to erase this stain from the state’s charter.