I love you, but I am not coming back until you make some big changes. I miss your vast wilderness—your beautiful mountains, rivers, and forests—and the many amazing people who live with you. However, your blatant discriminatory practices have driven me away. While there are many issues that need to be addressed, I would like to focus your attention to two key problems: you lack basic rights and protections for women and LGBTI individuals.
There are many problems with Idaho for women. Idaho is one of the worst states for gender pay equality with a large wage gap (about 25%) between men and women. Fewer than one in four businesses is female-owned and the median salary is $30,403, seventeen percent lower than the national average. This is particularly problematic because many women lack health insurance coverage and women paying out-of-pocket for all heath care is higher than the national average. The National Partnership for Women and Families gave Idaho a whopping “F” for failing to provide a single state benefit or program to help support families before and after the birth of a child—programs that are especially important for working class women to keep their jobs. Idaho’s own Gov. Butch Otter fails to provide equal pay for equal work, with the median salary for the eleven women in his Cabinet at $85,446, while the median salary for the thirty-three men is $103,002.
Speaking of politics, Idahoans have never had a female U.S. senator or governor and have not sent a woman to congress in more than 10 years. Additionally, the Idaho legislature has passed a memorial (a formal opinion that’s non-binding) against the recent Obama administration guidelines that require private health care providers for religiously affiliated employers to provide contraception coverage to employees. Rep. Carlos Bilbao explained his support of the memorial because “[t]he federal government is telling private insurers what they must cover." This is funny considering that Idaho law restricts private insurance coverage for most abortions. This is in addition to parental consent laws, 24-hour waiting period, state-directed counseling, and prohibitions against public funding for abortions. While recent legislation for forced ultrasounds failed (props to the amazing activists that helped make this happen), Idaho has passed a fetal-pain abortion law that prevents abortions after 20 weeks, which is most likely unconstitutional.
LGBTI rights in Idaho are abysmal. In November 2006, Idaho voters adopted a constitutional amendment that proclaimed that "[a] marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," a far cry from recent recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions in other states. Idaho also needs to explicitly allow hospital visitation by same-sex partners or spouses and allow adoption by same-sex couples (although Idaho does allow adoption by single LGBTI individuals). It is crucial that Idaho take steps to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment and housing. Idaho should pass specific laws that address hate crimes and prohibit harassment in schools, issues the Idaho legislature actively resists. While Idahoans may soon have the constitutional right to hunt, LGBTI individuals in Idaho will still lack basic human rights.
Idaho, to stay relevant, you have to change. There are wonderful and passionate women and men fighting for change in Idaho, so please listen. Idaho, I believe in you.
Lauren Guicheteau interned with Legal Voice and has one more year as a law student at the University of Washington. Once she graduates, she hopes to continue working on legal issues dealing with gender inequality and LGBTI rights.