It is all but a given that “Add the Words” supporters will once again be disappointed at the end of this legislative session. More specifically, it is unlikely any bills written to provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation will come out of the legislature. The fact is this is an election year all but confirms it.
So what chance does “Add the Words” stand going forward beyond this session especially considering a majority of Americans now support marriage equality. If one is thinking long-term around 10-20 years the odds are good that “Add the Words” will eventually rack up success. But success anywhere else before this time-frame is unlikely.
Unlike a majority in the country there is no clear-cut evidence Idahoans support gay marriage (I am using gay marriage as a proxy for “Add the Words”). Moreover, Idaho is a distinctly more Republican state than the nation. That said, Idaho has clear libertarian, liberal and social conservative tendencies that often clash on a number of policy issues.
Gay marriage would seem to be another issue where these tendencies would clash. But short of liberal/urban support for “Add the Words” there has been little support from libertarians for the efforts. Perhaps this could be the case because government would have to step in to enforce non-discriminatory practices as opposed to society self-regulating itself. Regardless, support outside liberal/urban circles seems limited.
But what else explains this? Even though Idaho is a GOP controlled state it is also one of the youngest states in the country and not all that youth is consolidated in Lewiston, Boise and Sun Valley (all places that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation btw). Many young individuals live in the growing Treasure Valley suburbs as well as a surprising number in Northern and East Idaho.
This may seem somewhat a cynical answer but a large part of it may be simply the public does not care about the issue. Consider that in the last BSU Public Policy Survey a mere 2% of all Idaho voters said social issues were the most important issues facing Idaho. Admittedly, this survey is 2 years out of date (2011) but it does hint that the issue is either invisible or unimportant to the vast majority of Idahoans.
Rather, the set of issues Idahoans seem more focused on today are the same issues that usually drive policy in a struggling economy; jobs, income growth and education. Of late education has become a flash-point in both GOP and Democratic circles (think the Luna Laws).
There are more obvious answers. Despite the growth of the electoral and legislative power of the younger suburbs rural area legislators still have significant power. They more than others are likely to oppose “Add the Words.” Also, age in the legislature is a factor. In 2012, Idaho boasted one of the oldest legislatures in the nation. This despite being one of the youngest states in the country. This age difference can partly be attributed to the long tenures of many rural legislators.
Lastly, many Idahoans religious beliefs simply do not gel with gay marriage. Many older and rural legislators follow the presumed majority of Idahoans in this regard. Without evidence that the younger generation outside the urban core believes differently it is hard to say they would actively work in the short-term to get “Add the Words” passed in some form. More likely a patchwork of cities will continue to pass it at the local level.
Idaho’s current social, cultural and political environment is simply not suited to acting on anything related to gay marriage or sexual orientation in the near future. Over time more Idahans should come to accept gay marriage and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation but until then “Add the Words” supporters will continually be disappointed and only able to garner small successes at the local level.