By David Adler
The House State Affairs Committee’s vote to kill the proposal to add to Idaho’s Human Rights Law protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, despite their public professions of understanding the cruelties inflicted on gays and lesbians, sent a loud message to members of the LGBT Community: You’re on your own.
Legislators acknowledged that three days of hearings had enlightened them about the burdens carried by gays and lesbians. Lawmakers swathed their angst with assurances that legislation “will come.”
Some opponents of “Add the Words” sought refuge in the cocoon of “definitional” difficulties. Others pointed out that “loopholes” in the proposed measure would be exploited by predators. Of course, there was the familiar refrain, that “you can’t change the hearts and minds of people,” a version of the old sanctuary, “you can’t legislate morality.”
And so advocates of “Add the Words,” in their decade-long cause to win equal – not special — rights under the law, were told to be patient; their time will come.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had heard those words in the 1940s and the ’50s and the ’60s, but he wondered how long American citizens must wait before enjoying full-fledged citizenship with all the rights and privileges that attend “citizenship.”
House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher’s declaration that Idahoans should cease their mistreatment of gays and lesbians packs the force of a feather. When the committee deigns not to send the Add the Words proposal to the full House for floor debate, where education might flourish, there is no punch to such missives, not even an exclamation point.
The shopworn refrain — “you can’t legislate morality” — must be retired. Governments have been legislating morality and molding behavior for thousands of years. That’s the function of law.
• Twenty five hundred years ago, Aristotle observed that it is the responsibility of lawmakers to pack the right values into legislation to shape the community.
• In 1927, Justice Louis Brandeis declared that law is the nation’s most effective teacher.
• The Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision set in motion the principle, now embraced by all except those who dwell in the most remote margins of our nation, that segregation and discrimination are unconstitutional and immoral.
What’s next for advocates of Add the Words? Will the next legislative session, held in the midst of reelection campaigns, produce the civil rights legislation that they seek?
As they contemplate means to persuade lawmakers to do the “right” thing, it may occur to them to adopt the strategy of economic boycotts, an approach embraced by the American colonists and Dr. King in the cause of winning rights.
Adler has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution and presidential power.