Being for Marriage Equality in Idaho


A note from TPM Reader AH

It’s [AH] in Boise, Idaho. I’m a long time reader of TPM, have contributed a couple of news items, and have written you personally two or three times. Also a primate. This is a long email, and I apologize for that, but it takes a while to describe the situation here in Idaho.

I have watched happily as one state after another has had their ban on gay marriage reversed, was particularly joyful when Judge Candy Dale ruled against Idaho’s, and am in general agreement with you that the marriage equality issue will probably be settled by the end of President Obama’s second term.

However, I would like to point out a couple of red state wrinkles that your blue state readers might not be aware of. What I write applies particularly to Idaho, but I believe that the situation in Montana (a bit bluer than us) is similar, and we are probably not too different from Utah or Wyoming either.

Idaho’s Human Rights Act does not outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and civil rights groups have now tried for eight years without success to get the legislature even to hold a hearing on adding protection of those citizens to the act. (My wife and I were arrested with many others this spring in the Capitol during an action to try to shock or shame the legislature into action. We failed.)

However seven Idaho cities, the largest Boise, the smallest Sun Valley (I think) have municipal non-discrimination ordinances and about one quarter of the state’s population is protected under them.

In my estimation, there is little chance that the state Human Rights Act will be amended before marriage equality becomes final and official in Idaho and, so, Idaho gay couples will be able to get married before they are protected from being fired or denied housing or other public accommodation (unless they live in one of the seven cities with municipal ordinances). In short, Idaho’s message to gay people will be “we can’t stop you from getting married, but you can still be fired or kicked out of your apartment for doing it.”

I’m also very worried about the legislature’s reaction to the inevitable final overturn of our constitutional ban on gay marriage. As you might or might not know, politics in the intermountain west is heavily based on resentment of the federal government and grievance against the more liberal coastal areas. A lot of this has to do with the fact that about two thirds of the land in Idaho is public, i.e. federal, but also with the fact that we have to obey the same environmental and social justice laws as everybody else. (See Cliven Bundy as an illustrative extreme example of both of these themes.)

Our legislature likes to poke a stick in the eye of “the feds” or the rest of the country whenever they can. For example, one of the first bills passed in the 2014 session (January-March for us, and one of the craziest sessions in my 38 years in the state) was a bill to point out that even if a gay couple can file federal taxes jointly, they still have to file separate state returns in Idaho. Totally unnecessary since gay marriage was illegal at the time, but the legislature had to make a point about what they think of marriage equality I don’t want to bore you or shock you with the rest of the session.

So how will they respond now that an “unelected judge” has overturned Idaho’s constitutional ban on gay marriage passed by a pretty good majority of the electorate (63%) in 2006? There will probably be some symbolic memorials to Congress containing a lot of heated rhetoric asking for a constitutional amendment to return marriage issues to the states. But more concretely, they have the ability to overturn the municipal anti-discrimination ordinances at the state level. In fact, the 2013 Republican party state convention called upon them to do just that last session. I also expect something with pretty language about religious freedom which will try to allow “people of faith” to ignore the existence of gay marriage and discriminate against gay people any way they wish.

Liberals are going to win the big war at the national level pretty soon, but there is going to be a long period of mopping up in the red states that is going to be both ugly and painful.

Best wishes, [AH]

PS. You’re probably asking yourself “with all that AND the Idaho gubernatorial debate, why does he live there?” It’s partly about my old job (I’m retired now) but mainly we wanted to live in a state with beautiful mountains and extensive wilderness areas. Idaho has both of these and Boise is a wonderful city. We didn’t move here for the politics and have watched with horror as Idaho shifted from a conservative state that would elect Frank Church and Cecil Andrus, to a rwnj state that elects Jim Risch and Butch Otter to their old jobs. It’s all about white flight from California, but that’s another story…