Fearing discrimination for their sexual orientation, some in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community have sought protection under Idaho’s Human Rights Act. Currently, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against a person based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. The act protects against bias in areas of employment, housing and public accommodation.
Public legislative hearings in the past convinced many lawmakers that discrimination against LGBT persons is a genuine problem, and fear of retribution, particularly in the workplace, is a chief concern. Discrimination is ugly and we condemn it. We want to send a message to all that bigotry and persecution are not tolerated by Idahoans. But concerns remain that affording protections to LGBT persons could jeopardize others’ religious freedoms and rights of conscience.
For the past four years, lawmakers from both political parties have worked with citizens and other interested groups to find a resolution. Most of us have concluded that if this impasse is to be resolved, the only viable solution is a balanced approach—one that will provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation while simultaneously safeguarding the right to fully exercise religious convictions. We all have much in common. Many LGBT people are deeply religious and have no desire to threaten the religious beliefs of others. And true believers in almost all religious denominations condemn intolerance and discrimination. It is not that we are on opposite sides, but that we are fellow human beings seeking to follow the divine admonition to love one another.
It takes time, however, for people to better understand the concepts of this balanced approach and focus on the benefits it provides them. People need time to evaluate the important protections they can secure for themselves by granting security to others, time we do not have in the current legislative session.
Consequently, we do not plan to initiate legislation this year. We have made great progress and have developed a workable framework for future discussion. We now invite religious leaders and LGBT rights advocates in our communities to join together to develop a path forward that will benefit all stakeholders. We stand willing to help facilitate such dialogue among those seeking freedom for all.
We recognize that some people do not wish to address this issue. But the risks of doing nothing are great on both sides. Unwillingness by the LGBT community to address religious concerns will result in continued inaction by the legislature. If religious freedom advocates ignore the problem, families and business owners will face growing threats to their rights to practice sincerely held religious beliefs in all aspects of their lives. Ultimately, we will all abdicate our rights to the whims of the courts—rulings of which are no longer predictable for either side.
Through mutual respect and sincere compassion, by seeking fairness rather than unilateral advantage, it is both possible and necessary for us to protect against LGBT discrimination while safeguarding religious freedoms. A balanced solution can be found. Without it, both sides will lose.