In this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful to Governor Butch Otter for his public support for moving forward on a bill to amend Idaho’s Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of either gender identity or sexual preference. In a gubernatorial debate shortly before his reelection, the governor noted: “I met twice with the group last year that was advocating for adding the words. And the two times I met with them, I agreed that the Legislature should hold a hearing.”
In my own time working as an advocate for Add the Words, I have not had the privilege of speaking with Governor Otter, but I take him as a man of his word, and I look forward to seeing him use his influence with Republican leadership during the forthcoming legislative session to promote liberty and justice for all Idahoans, regardless of sexual preference or gender identity. I am confident that when our Legislature finally holds a hearing, and the victims of prejudice are, at long last, given the opportunity to share their stories with our lawmakers and the public, a large majority of Idahoans will support adding those four words as a bipartisan matter of simple fairness. For despite the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, basic fairness is very much still at play in our state: although they can now marry, gay and transgender Idahoans can still be denied such basic necessities as housing and employment with no legal protections whatsoever.
As a rabbi and a leader in the faith community, I think it imperative to insist, from the start, that when we do finally extend the protections of the Idaho Human Rights Act to cover sexual preference and gender identity, we must utterly reject manipulative attempts to undermine the law with so-called “religious” exemptions.
This is not to insist that churches, mosques, synagogues, and other religious institutions must recognize same-sex marriage or fully accept homosexuality as part of their teachings and traditions. Within the confines of each faith community, there is plenty of room for disagreement, which should be fully protected as a matter of religious freedom. But this protection does not give individuals of any religion the right to discriminate in the marketplace. By way of analogy: my congregation certainly should be able to prohibit pork products in our synagogue kitchen—but we have no right to ban restaurants (even those owned by Jews) from selling bacon cheeseburgers to whoever wants to buy one. In short, faith does not provide a license for prejudice in the wider society.
I believe it is evil to use God’s name—and the sacred language of faith—to rationalize or even promote bigotry. Alas, for centuries, religious leaders have wielded faith as a club against gay and lesbian people. We have used God and Scripture, which should be all about love and liberty, to promote bigotry and hatred. We have acted just like those faith communities that once used their sacred texts to justify slavery.
That time is past. Let’s apply Idaho’s human rights act to everyone, gay and straight and transgender, with no exceptions or exemptions. Our faith demands no less.