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Pocatello Vote Seen As Test Of Gay-Rights Measures In Idaho

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network

Voters in Pocatello, Idaho will decide the fate of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance Tuesday.

Pocatello is one of seven cities in Idaho that have passed laws aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bi and trans people, but this is the first time one of these measures has been put to a popular vote.

Pocatello’s ordinance prohibits most businesses from denying employment, services or housing based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The city councils in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Ketchum, Moscow and Sandpoint have all passed similar ordinances.

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. It was a tough sell then and now opponents are hoping it will be an even tougher sell to voters.

“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,” said Ralph Lillig, who is leading the drive against the law.

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, part of the campaign that’s pushed for gay rights in Pocatello, said she is worried 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.’”

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.

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.