Because I am human, I have basic human rights. I can work and earn a dignified wage. I can drink clean water and have access to food. I can get married and have children. I can keep them safe in a home in which I rent or own. But not if that human being is LBGT and living in Idaho.
Once again, our legislators have a chance to practice morality by offering basic human rights to a marginalized group of by just four adding words to our Idaho Human Rights Act. Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, is sponsoring SB1015 because “to provide that freedom from discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity is a civil right.”
If you are new to Idaho, this is not the first time our lawmakers have been asked to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act by adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It was first broached in 2015, again in 2016, again in 2017, and again in 2018, but consistently this war of words has left a population of people without a fundamental human right to have protection against discrimination.
So why not add the words? If we all agree that we are all human, and we all agree that all humans have basic fundamental rights that include the right to life, liberty, security, equal protection of the law and freedom of thought, speech and religion, then what is the rub? The key word is religion. A vast swath of Americans hold their religious freedoms close and fear at any moment someone will steal those freedoms away.
Perhaps what is missing here is a moral understanding of human rights and dignity. The right to be free from discrimination in housing and employment is moral and just. How can I feel good about withholding a right from someone else simply for fear of the loss of my religious freedom? In other words, religion seems to trump basic human rights.
But wait a minute, don’t all religions believe in offering basic human rights to all humans? How can a moral human being tell a member of the LGBTQ community that he or she cannot rent an apartment because that moral human being has a religious right to discriminate? I cherish my religious rights and freedoms, but my freedom to worship and my freedom to practice does not give me carte blanche to behave immorally against other human beings.
In 2015, legislators in Utah were able to come together and pass SB296, which ultimately added the same words our Idaho legislators prefer to disregard. They got past the rhetorical quagmire in which our legislators seem to drown and discussed how protecting the LGBTQ community against discrimination in employment and housing didn’t amount to a lack of religious freedom, and it didn’t create a protected class for other purposes. The bill allowed for religious exemptions for religious institutions, organizations and associations.
Meanwhile, our Idaho legislators are still worried about how to create a bill that adds the words but allows the discrimination. In other words, they want to make sure LGBT Idahoans understand they are not liked, not respected and not wanted in any part of Idaho, and they want to hide that prejudice in a cloak called religious liberty.
In a well-ordered society, each of us should recognize and observe one another’s rights and duties to the common good. If our legislators could take the lead morally and set an example of how to live in solidarity with one another, current shared challenges might be vanquished. Our values will shine for all to see when we lift each other up, not hold a select few down.
Spread the word, Idaho: add the words.