Idaho GOPer responds to outcry, pulls two virulently anti-gay laws from consideration

Rep. Lynn Luker says his legislation has been "misinterpreted" and he reserves the right to reintroduce it later

By Elias Isquith

Published February 19, 2014 9:30PM (EST)

                       (AP/Randy Squires)
(AP/Randy Squires)

In the face of an overwhelming amount of criticism, it appears that the Kansas state legislature has — at least for now — abandoned its attempt to codify homophobia by allowing people in the private and public sphere to refuse to provide services to LGBT people if they suspect them of being in a same-sex marriage.

Now, in Idaho, a very similar process has taken place, with state Rep. Lynn Luker withdrawing two bills he proposed, both of which are ostensibly about religious freedom but would in effect turn LGBT Idahoans into second-class citizens.

Before Luker's move, lawmakers in Idaho were set to deliberate over the two anti-gay bills. If the bills had passed, writes Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, Idaho would have "instantly become the new face of segregation in America."

Stern describes the first of the two bills as "a close copy" of the dead Kansas bill. It would have allowed any private employer or business to deny services to someone if they suspect them of being gay. The law would have applied to public workers, too, meaning that a police officer or ambulance driver could have refused to do their jobs as long as they said their refusal was premised on their religious beliefs. Underlining the fundamentally hostile relationship Luker wanted to create between Idaho and its LGBT residents, the bill would have — like Kansas' — forced any gay person who brought suit over acts of discrimination to pay their opponents' legal fees if they lost (as the law all but guaranteed they would).

Bad as that bill was, however, Stern makes a persuasive argument that Luker's second anti-gay proposal was even worse. The second bill, according to Stern, would have not only "[outlawed] any ENDA-style LGBT protections in the state of Idaho" but would also have "[meddled] with basic principles of free association" and "[ripped] from private organizations the ability to write their own rules" by protecting anyone claiming a faith-based right to discrimination from being punished by any “occupational licensing board or government subdivision.”

Here's what that would have meant, in plain English, via Stern:

This measure might seem mild on its face, but its true scope is absolutely jaw-dropping. Under the bill, a doctor may refuse to treat gay people and be protected from losing his license—even if the American Medical Association requires nondiscriminatory treatment. (The bill’s language is so broad, in fact, that a doctor could also legally deny treatment to single mothers.) A schoolteacher or college professor can openly order gays out of her classroom—even if her school has a policy of equality. Banks and law firms will be forbidden from requiring LGBT inclusiveness. The bills meddle with basic principles of free association, ripping from private organizations the ability to write their own rules. Under the proposed law, not a single group in the state of Idaho will be permitted to require the equal treatment of gays.

As stated above, Luker has, for the time being, given up on passing these draconian attacks on the liberty of LGBT Idahoans, claiming the bills were "misinterpreted" as a "sword for discrimination." He claims he'll be taking more time to refine these bills and that it's unlikely either will be reintroduced during the current legislative session.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Idaho Lgbt Lgbt Rights Lynn Luker Mark Joseph Stern New Jim Crow Slate