Updated: 6:00 p.m. MST
BOISE, Idaho — Supporters of religious freedom went toe-to-toe Monday against hundreds of gay rights advocates who had waited nearly a decade to speak in the Idaho Legislature for a measure that would create protections for LGBT people in the state.
The legislation has been denied a public hearing for nine consecutive years by the Republican-controlled Statehouse. Yet advocates have refused to be ignored.
The movement peaked in 2014 after protesters disrupted the Statehouse with a series of civil-disobedience demonstrations, leading to more than 190 arrests throughout the session and forcing the hand of conservative legislative leaders, who conceded the time for a hearing had finally come.
“My son now presents as my daughter, and I can’t bear the thought of my precious child being treated unfairly by anyone simply for being herself,” said Diane Terhune of Meridian, while testifying in front of the House State Affairs Committee. “For those of you who think (lesbian and gay) individuals don’t need to be protected as a group because they choose their lifestyles, let me tell you that no one chooses this life. It is one of hardship.”
Overall, lawmakers were largely silent during the hearing, asking only a handful of follow up questions and withholding comments. The committee — made up some of the Statehouse’s most conservative lawmakers and only a handful of Democrats — met twice Monday and expected to convene Tuesday morning to listen to testimony.
Idaho’s gay rights supporters not only face opposition among the state’s staunchly conservative legislators but also from Idaho’s deeply religious population. Some at the hearing testified on Monday that they fear the bill, commonly known as “Add the Words,” will infringe on their rights as individuals and business owners.
“Don’t make laws that protect (against) laws against nature and sexual deviant acts,” said Paul Thompson of Twin Falls. “Regardless of sexual orientation, it is a law that makes a mockery of all that is created and to our creator.”
State Rep. John McCrostie of Boise, currently Idaho’s only openly gay state lawmaker, responded that he, too, was a Christian and asked if Thompson’s beliefs were greater than his own.
“I respect an individual’s desire to want to live out their lives as they feel compelled to do so,” Thompson said. “But I owe myself authority to the written word of God.”
According to the bill, the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” would be included in the state’s Human Rights Act, which already bans discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin in situations like housing, employment and public accommodations.