Idaho Lawmakers’ Bigotry Has Cost Their State $715,000 (Now What?)

Idaho Lawmakers’ Bigotry Has Cost Their State $715,000 (Now What?) December 20, 2015

My even broke earlier today. I can’t even. Be sure you brace yours before you read this, because this is just bizarre. The Religious Right has made yet another misstep in its self-created, self-maintained war on gay people–but in a weird kind of way, though, this story makes the perfect Sunday Happy Thought.

A little ray of sunshine. (Credit: s0ulsurfing, CC license.)
A little ray of sunshine. (Credit: s0ulsurfing, CC license.)

Idaho is well-known for being a staunchly conservative state. It is ruled from the top by Mormons, who own many of the businesses and represent about one-third of its lawmakers at the state level (most of the rest identify as Protestant). About half of Idahoans identify as conservative, with only about 15% liberal. Disapproval of Obama is fairly solid.

People think of the state and go “Oh, the potato place?” and yes, Idahoan farmers do grow a hell of a lot of potatoes (and yes, there’s a museum devoted to the unassuming spud), but the northern part of the state is a wilderness paradise infested with extremist white supremacists who really, really, really don’t like the gubmint but really, really, really do like their Bibles and their guns. More often nowadays, that’s what people think about when they think about Idaho–wild-eyed religious racists with guns.

And anti-gay bigotry, of course. Lots, and lots, and lots of anti-gay bigotry.

When lawmakers in Idaho began to suspect that equal marriage might become a thing, they began cracking down on gay rights generally.

Representative Lynn Luker, a Boise Republican, tried to push through two bills last year that would have allowed bigoted business owners to discriminate against anyone they even suspected of being gay. The law wouldn’t have affected only gay people but also anybody at all that a service provider didn’t like–like single mothers–due to its vague, broad wording, but it was clearly meant as a way to protect anti-gay bigots who really didn’t like the idea of not being allowed to discriminate anymore.

After a huge outcry and a demonstration by hundreds of people at the Capitol in Boise, Rep. Luker dropped the bills. He was simply SHOCKED, YES SHOCKED to discover that so many people considered his sneaky innocent little religious liberty bills to be a thinly-veiled “sword of discrimination.”

I know, right? Ugh, some people (cough*liberals*cough) just don’t understand that a bill clearly meant to be purely discriminatory might be used to, I don’t know, discriminate against people its supporters want to hate, silence, and shame.

A few months later, in January this year, Republican lawmakers in Idaho refused to add language protecting LGBTQ people to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Despite having overwhelming popular support, the “Add the Words” campaign failed with a vote of 13-5, with lawmakers disingenuously claiming that they still think that if such a bill passes, that it might force clergy to marry same-sex couples. It absolutely, positively wouldn’t have that effect–any more than racist clergy are now forced to marry mixed-race couples even though racial discrimination is against the law. But the sheep still believe this nonsense thanks to irresponsible religious and political fearmongering, so the pandering must continue.

Idaho was already fighting this issue with an attempt to pass a state constitutional amendment barring gay marriage. They passed it in 2006. In 2013 four lesbian couples brought a lawsuit against Idaho challenging its ban (Latta v. Otter). This lawsuit succeeded the next year, when the ban was ruled unconstitutional and same-sex couples were granted access to their right to marry. As soon as it became legal, about a hundred same-sex couples got their marriage licenses from the Ada County Clerk’s office. The sky did not fall; Satan did not appear in front of the Mormon temple to declare victory; meteors didn’t hit the Earth and spell out GOD HATES GAY PEOPLE in crater impacts. Strangely, life continued about the same as it always did.

Settled deal, eh? Done and done?

Oh, you know how oppressors are. They aren’t ever done till they’re exhausted. They’ll bite our legs off if they lack the ability to do anything else, but rest assured that as long as Republican lawmakers think they need to appease their voters by behaving in a certain way, they will behave that way to the bitter end. It’s just mind-blowing to me that in this case, the lawmakers behaving this way represent such a small but vocal minority of people.

Money for nothing.

Lawsuits aren’t free. Idaho lawmakers have now spent more than SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS on this fight. If I could make those letters blink and rain glitter down across on your monitor, I’d do it. Because yes, you heard me right: this legal battle has now cost the state of Idaho USD$715,000 and may end up costing even more before it’s all over.

If you’re wondering, it’s not the most that any state has paid to fight same-sex marriage–Michigan (USD$1.9M) and Ohio (USD$1.3M) are spending way more than USD$700k, but it’s still a lot more than a lot of other states paid. I mean, Alaska gave up after about USD$128k. Because of the size of the legal fees, the Republican governor of the state, Butch Otter, recently had to vote more money into his state’s Constitutional Defense Fund to pay for all these lawyers and court costs. This was set up in 1995 to fight squabbles with the federal government, and it has apparently only won one lawsuit it’s fought since its inception–in 1996, over nuclear waste cleanup.

Other than that, it has backed losing horses every single time, getting smacked down over draconian attacks on abortion rights, gay rights, and animal welfare. I guess in that respect it’s a bit like another group of anti-gay extremists, Liberty Counsel, which seems to have a similarly hazy view of the law and seems to lose most of its battles.

Thanks to this Jesus Party Constitutional Defense Fund, Republicans in that state can promote whatever dangerously fanatical religious ideas they want, confident that they have this little slush fund they can take advantage of specifically to drag out court cases that normally would get settled long before reaching a judge.

There is currently around $230,000 in the fund thanks to its administrators voting themselves more money. Is that sort of like using “motherlode” in The Sims 3 to cheat-code yourself more cash? It sure sounds like it to me.

I wish the 99% could do that with their own bills. I’ve no doubt most of us could find a better place to put USD$715,000.

Hey, maybe we could put it into healthcare for people who need it since Idaho is also one of those states that is stubbornly resisting expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, resulting in many thousands of working-poor Idahoans still living in fear of a catastrophic illness. Idaho is 49th out of 50 for our ratio of physicians to patients, dead last in its ratio of psychiatrists to patients, and dead last for its percentage of age-eligible women getting timely mammograms. Idaho has the 11th highest suicide rate in the country and is damned near last place for non-compliance with vaccination schedules.

Idaho also boasts the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the whole country, as of a 2013 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor. This figure goes along with the state also having one of the lowest minimum wages, something Butch Otter has defended time and again–proudly flaunting the state’s huge percentage of hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck workers to attract out-of-state companies. Hey, they’re very proud of being in the bottom 10 in average household income.

And Idaho is also almost dead last in education, taking 49th place out of 50 in spending per student in public education, 42nd in teacher salaries, 47th in college enrollment after high school graduation–and of the teens who go on to college, some 40% of those are going to need remedial education to get up to speed and another 38% will leave college after one year–probably to become minimum-wage workers. Proportionally, Idaho has been spending less and less on public education since the 1990s–and the trend isn’t reversing anytime soon.

It’s like lawmakers are setting out with a mission statement of creating dumb, ignorant sheep to cook their burgers and package their potatoes.

But what’s got them really upset is the idea of two men or two women getting married.

Let’s clarify here what’s going on. The Mormon Church, which is, let’s not forget, largely spearheading anti-gay efforts in the United States, has lost damned near one million members as a result of their stubbornly bigoted stance. Meanwhile, about a third of Christian young people who either deconvert or disengage from their religion (“disengagement” means pulling back from religious observances like praying or going to church, but not necessarily full-on deconverting) do so because they don’t want to support or be part of their religion’s war on LGBTQ people.

And it’s all so pointless that it’s downright frustrating to see what’s happening. Some five years ago I began hearing rumblings from Christian leaders about how they could already tell they were losing their culture war. One leader even said in 2011 that maybe it was time to cut their losses, implying that Christians should redouble their efforts to criminalize abortion rather than continue to wage a lost war on marriage equality. As far back as 2013, a constitutional lawyer I briefly corresponded with made an educated speculation that if SCOTUS ever got its hands on equal marriage, Christian bigots were going to lose definitively–and I refuse to believe that legislators didn’t know any decent lawyers to consult well before deciding to waste money on lawsuits defending their favorite legislation.

The situation gets even worse, though. You see, conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot, demographically, by pursuing policies meant to harass, demonize, dehumanize, and bully LGBTQ people.

The upcoming generation is increasingly suspicious of religion, which they view as overly politicized and hypocritical. Consequently, they are rejecting the self-styled Jesus Party–it’s no secret that they helped hand Barack Obama his presidency. And those young people are going to be voting again–and in greater numbers–in 2016. Republicans are still trying to work out whether to mock them or pander to them, but neither is going to get them votes.

Most African-Americans vote Democratic, as do most Hispanic-Americans and women of all races and ages. The percentages of most of these demographic groups are increasing with respect to that of the “terrified white fundagelical bigot” demographic. At this rate, experts think that Caucasians will stop being the majority race in America in a few decades.

And I’ve written extensively about the de-Christianization of America. With every passing month, more Christians walk away from the religion entirely and more people declare themselves either “Nones” or “Dones” or atheists or Pastafarians or Jedi or whatever else floats their boats. Some 30% of young people are now unaffiliated with Christianity–a number that is only rising. And people who leave Christianity skew sharply liberal as well.

Idaho’s ruling Republicans might be vaguely aware that officially they should be trying to woo members of all of these groups, but they’re certainly not acting like it.

So between Idaho’s piss-poor showing in national rankings, its miserable dysfunction caused by short-sighted and completely self-serving policies, and its refusal to recognize simple demographic changes, what did Idaho’s lawmakers decide to go spend USD$715,000 on?

Yeah. They spent almost a million dollars on a totally doomed lawsuit trying to stop same-sex marriage because pandering to furious Christian bigots is more important to them than responsibly using their citizens’ money or truly representing their real constituents, not the imaginary ones in their heads.

I really hope that Idaho’s voters will hold their legislators more accountable than they have. This is so far past ridiculous that I don’t even know what to say, other than this:

Don’t you just bet the Republican National Convention bigwigs are having kittens right about now over how poorly their “outreach” is going to the demographics they desperately need to win a Presidency?

And isn’t that thought its own special kind of wonderful?

Because gang, let’s not mince words here. They are paying taxpayer money to make their own adherents leave their ranks. They are funding, creating, and fighting policies guaranteed to turn more and more people away from their causes. While their antics appeal to their base of racist, sexist, classist, theocracy-minded demagogues, that base is shrinking as a percentage of the American population more every year. At this point Republicans can’t stop pandering to the one base they know they can count on, but anything less than a total 180 and full renunciation of that pandering won’t bag them any other demographic–and would be done at the cost of losing the one demographic they have in hand now after some 30-odd years of pandering, fearmongering, and race-baiting.

They’ve painted themselves into a corner with exploding paint.

And I just realized something, reading the news about this expensive, doomed lawsuit they fought using a defense fund that doesn’t even sound ethical:

The Christian Right is using taxpayer money to fund their own fall into irrelevance.

They are not only their own problem, but also the solution to that problem.

And isn’t that a nice thought to sail through the weekend with?

Happy Weekend, World. (Credit: Bureau of Land Management, CC license.)
Happy Weekend, World. (Credit: Bureau of Land Management, CC license.)

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