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Idaho Republican Leader Works To Craft Compromise Gay-Rights Bill

Gay rights activists stand in protest outside a committee room last January after a House committee rejected an anti-discrimination bill.
Gay rights activists stand in protest outside a committee room last January after a House committee rejected an anti-discrimination bill.

A law that would protect gays from discrimination in Idaho could finally have Republican support in the legislature next year, after a decade. A Republican working on the bill says it would be a balance between gay rights and religious freedom.

Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, a Republican, said he would like to see gays and lesbians protected from discrimination in his state.

"I don’t think that a business should deny services to a person because of their sexual orientation," Hill said. "However, I think that businesses should have a right not to participate in events that promote something that’s contrary to their religious beliefs.”

Hill said he’s not ready to talk specifics, but he wants to make sure photographers, bakers and other businesses in the wedding industry are not obligated to participate in same-sex weddings.

A federal court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in Idaho last October, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court made final this summer.

Hill said lawmakers should not also leave it up to the courts to establish a balance between rights for gays and lesbians and the religious liberties of business owners.

Last year Utah passed an anti-discrimination law that had the support of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Hill said he’s using that law as a pattern, but only one to start from.

Utah’s law includes protections only in employment and housing. It doesn’t address whether businesses must provide services to gays, lesbians, bi and trans people.

Gay rights advocates have proposed adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, the state law that also protects race, color, national origin, sex and religion.

Hill said his plan would not change the Human Rights Act, but would instead create a section in a separate part of Idaho’s laws. He said that would allow lawmakers to more easily address the issue of religious liberties.

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