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

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 p.m. 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. 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 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.

A news release about the Tuesday and Wednesday town halls follows:

“ADD THE WORDS” HITS THE ROAD

Add the Words and coalition partners to hold town hall style meetings in various cities in Eastern and Southern Idaho.

MERIDIAN, ID – On Tuesday, October 22nd and 23rd , 2013, Add the Words, Idaho and coalition partners will host their last two of five town hall meetings planned this fall to continue efforts to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The goal of these meetings is three fold. The groups involved want to educate the audience on the history of the Idaho Human Rights Act, the need for the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity, and give community members the tools to engage and influence their legislators to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act. The ACLU of Idaho, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Add the Words, Idaho, in partnership with local organizations, are facilitating the meetings. Questions and discussion will be intermittent throughout the presentation.

All community members are invited and encouraged to come to these meetings.

Meridian town hall: Oct. 22, 2013 6-7:30pm at Meridian City  Hall

Canyon County town hall: Oct. 23, 2013 6-7:30pm at Blatchley Hall, at the College of Idaho

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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