Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Human Rights Act?

I cancelled my subscription to the Spokesman-Review when they published what I felt was an extremely racist cartoon portrait of Barack Obama. So imagine my surprise today when I heard about their editorial which slammed the Idaho Legislature for their recent committee denial for a bill that would insert into the Idaho Human Rights Act a measure for the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

On February 20th, Senator Nicole LaFavour made a motion to the Senate Affairs Committee for the Idaho Human Rights Act to include anti-discrimination provisions for sexual orientation and gender identity. She had, at least, twenty legislative co-sponsors including Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls. But to no avail. The committee voted 5-2 against the motion. The "against" votes included Senators Denton Darrington, R-Declo; Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs; and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who have now successfully made the entire state of Idaho a place that is not too great for hate. Indeed, by virtue of their vote, they indirectly endorse hate. Why are these guys even in the Legislature?

The real tragedy of this failed motion lies in a legislature that has too many members who are so blind, so devoid of empathy, so lacking in intellectual thought, and so absolutely unable to act as individuals, that through their own sin of omission they allow others to openly discriminate against LGBTs. When 64% of Idahoans believe that it should be illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation, why are those people not represented in our state legislature?

In a candid and poignant interview with Thanh Tan, available at The Mountain Goat Report, Sen. LaFavour mentioned two reasons for this denial of motion that caught my attention. First, she mentioned that although many of her colleagues supported her individually, as a group they all ended up voting together. This kind of behavior was noted and supported by the research of Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, back in 1938. At that time, Myrdal came to the United States to study the "American Negro problem"; his research, however, produced an even more profound result. He found that although most Americans say they value "the worth and dignity of the individual, equality, and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness" (Understanding Human Differences), in fact, their behavior is consistently in contradiction to these values. I can only guess that's why our Republican legislators like to "fall in line" rather than represent the real values of 64% of their constituents.

Secondly, Sen. LaFavour mentioned that by omission, by not inserting anti-discrimination measures for LGBTs in the Human Rights Act, we allow discrimination. I would add, that by allowing discrimination, we also condone hate.

So five senators have basically invalidated the Idaho Human Rights Act because, in fact, it does not include all humans. All minorities should be outraged. By so quickly and easily denying the rights of one group, it sets a precedent for denying others. They didn't even allow for public discussion, the arrogance of which is not only a disservice to the people they represent but also to those people who will continue to live in fear of such discrimination.

The five senators who voted to turn down this motion are a shame to the great state of Idaho. This state is too great for hate, and too great for spineless, narrow-minded, and short-sighted leadership.