Pocatello Vote Seen As Test Of Gay Rights Measures In Idaho

May 19, 2014

Voters in Pocatello in southeast Idaho are deciding the fate of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance Tuesday. Pocatello one of seven cities in Idaho that have passed laws aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bi and trans people. This is the first time one of these measures has been put to a popular vote.

The Pocatello City Council hears testimony from gay rights supporters at one of several public hearings in April 2013.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Pocatello’s ordinance prohibits most businesses from denying employment, services or housing based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It was a tough sell when Pocatello’s city council passed it last year. And now opponents are hoping it will be an even tougher sell to voters. Ralph Lillig is leading the drive against the law.

“We have no desire to tell people how to live their life, but in the same vein we don’t want them to tell us how we can or cannot live ours,” Lillig said.

And the stakes may be higher than just Pocatello. This citywide election is the first popular vote on a gay rights issue since Idaho voters decided to prohibit same-sex marriages in 2006.

Susie Matsuura is part of the campaign that’s pushed for gay rights in Pocatello. She worries a defeat at the polls now could be a setback for gay rights efforts in other cities, and at the state level.

“The state legislature would look at this and say, ‘Look, Idaho is not ready for this,’” Matsuura said.

The Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have both deployed organizers to Pocatello to provide assistance to the campaign trying to uphold the law.

The vote comes just a week after a federal magistrate declared Idaho’s gay marriage ban from 2006 unconstitutional.

The city councils in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Ketchum, Moscow and Sandpoint have all passed similar ordinances outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Idaho’s Republican-led legislature has so far declined to consider a bill that would ban it statewide. Earlier this year, dozens of activists from the pro-gay rights “Add the Words” campaign were arrested at the Capitol.

The Pocatello City Council passed the ordinance last June on a 4-2 vote after months of public meetings and several re-writes of the law.

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