In Idaho Falls, it has for several years been illegal to fire or evict an LGBT person because of who they are. Finally, it is also illegal to deny them public accommodations. This is now the case in more than a dozen cities and two counties in Idaho. The Idaho Falls City Council should pride itself on finishing a job begun years ago.
The citizens who elected those who serve on it should be proud as well. Our community is now more just and more equal, and all of us are more free.
But discrimination remains legal in most of the state. Each year the Legislature refuses to solve this problem is another year of moral failure.
It is long past time for Idaho to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” alongside race, sex, color, religion, age or disability as prohibited bases for discrimination.
It is a common line of attack to claim that antidiscrimination laws create “special rights.” Maybe those who make such claims are simply comfortable throwing around falsehoods to score points. If they truly believe what they say, it betrays a shocking level of ignorance.
Antidiscrimination ordinances protect universal, equal rights. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Idaho Human Rights Act prohibit a business that provides public accommodations from employing racial discrimination. That means that neither no customer, regardless of their race, can be refused service on the basis of their race.
The antidiscrimination ordinance in place in Idaho Falls does the same thing with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It prohibits refusing to rent a room to straight people in exactly the same way that it prohibits refusal of service to gay or lesbian people. It prohibits refusing to serve a meal to cisgender men and women in the exact same way as to transgender men and women.
If there is an imbalance, some inequality in who must change their behavior, it lies in who has chosen to discriminate and who has profited from discrimination.
After passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the owner of the segregated Heart of Atlanta Motel appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. His arguments echoed those raised by opponents of antidiscrimination laws today: He said he was deprived of his right to choose his customers, and he claimed that being forced to serve customers he didn’t want to amounted to a form of slavery.
He was laughed out of court. Prohibition of discrimination, the justices found, was a “reasonable regulation.” Justices called the claim that being required to serve customers of all races was slavery “entirely frivolous.”
When segregated businesses in the Jim Crow South had to open their doors to all customers regardless of race, it is true that it was mostly white-owned businesses that had to end their practice of discrimination. There were two important reasons for this. First, white business owners were more likely to enforce apartheid. Second, whites owned most of the businesses because discrimination made it much harder for blacks to become business owners (which also made it easier for white-owned businesses to succeed, since they faced less competition).
The claim that antidiscrimination laws are discriminatory makes exactly as much sense as claiming that laws against theft deprive thieves of their property.
Will the Legislature finally recognize this simple truth? Will it finally ensure that throughout Idaho no person can be fired or evicted or refused service for who they love or how they experience their gender? Will it add the words?
What’s at stake is the right of our LGBT neighbors to live freely.
What’s at stake, also, is the Legislature’s moral character. The last decade of inaction does not speak highly of it. But it isn’t too late, as the Idaho Falls City Council has demonstrated.