LGBT rights in Idaho

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Map of USA ID.svg
StatusLegal since 2003
(Lawrence v. Texas)
Gender identityState alters sex on birth certificates for transgender people
Discrimination protectionsNone statewide
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2014

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the U.S state of Idaho may face some legal challenges not faced by non-LGBT people. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Idaho, and same-sex marriage has been legal in the state since October 2014. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not banned in the state, leaving an estimated 31,800 LGBT workers in Idaho vulnerable to employment discrimination.[1] Despite this, opinion polls have found a majority of Idahoans as supporting LGBT anti-discrimination laws, same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.[2]


Sodomy laws were enacted during the time of the creation of the Idaho Territory in the mid-19th century. Settlement by a large number of English, German and Irish immigrants further introduced Christianity to the region, resulting in negative attitudes towards homosexuality. Prior to this, several Native American tribes inhabited the land. These people groups had perceptions of gender and sexuality different to that of the Western world. For instance, the Kootenai people recognize individuals who act, behave and perform tasks typically associated with the opposite gender. The kupatke'tek are male-bodied individuals who act as women, while the titqattek are female-bodied individuals who act as men, and would become skilled hunters and warriors. In stories, they were regarded as supernatural beings, being able to see into the future and cure illnesses.[3] Similarly, the Coeur d'Alene people recognize the term st'amia, which refers to female-bodied individuals who live as men. There were no known legal or social punishments for engaging in homosexual activity among these tribes.

The Idaho Territory enacted a sodomy statute in 1864, punishing anal intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual, with five years' to life imprisonment. It was extended to include fellatio (oral sex) in 1916 in State v. Altwatter. In 1925, the state passed a sterilization law, providing for the possible forced vasectomy or salpingectomy of "habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual perverts". The legislation was repealed in 1972, having only been used on the "mentally retarded". The sodomy statute criminalized consensual acts as well, a point noted in numerous court cases including State v. Moore and State v. Wilson (both decided in 1956), in which two men were independently imprisoned for consensual same-sex sexual activity.[4]

Homosexuality entered increasingly more into the public eye from the 1950s onwards, especially after the Boise homosexuality scandal, at which time it was commonly regarded as a mental illness. In 1971, Idaho passed a law repealing the sodomy statute, to take effect on January 1, 1972, but following opposition by Catholic and Mormon groups, the state overturned the new law and reinstated the original law on April 1, 1972. Starting in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, acceptance and tolerance of LGBT people grew significantly. Consensual sodomy would remain illegal in Idaho for married heterosexual couples until 1993 (State v. Holden) and for same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples until 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas).[4]

Laws regarding same-sex sexual activity

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas rendered laws banning consensual sexual activity unenforceable, including Idaho's.[5]

As of 2019, the state's sodomy law, though unenforceable, had not been repealed by Idaho legislators.[6]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Boise Pride 2011 at the Idaho State Capitol

Idaho voters adopted a constitutional amendment in November 2006 stating that "A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."[7] Similar restrictions had been incorporated in the state's statutes in the 1990s.[8] A ruling in the case of Latta v. Otter on May 13, 2014 found these prohibitions unconstitutional. Enforcement of the ruling in that case had been stayed while the case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.[9]

On October 7, 2014, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court ruling that found the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples unconstitutional.[10] State officials failed to receive a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court while they pursued further appeals, and Idaho Governor Butch Otter announced the state would no longer attempt to preserve its denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples.[11] On October 15, 2014, approximately 100 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses at the Ada County clerk's offices.[12]

Adoption and parenting

Idaho permits adoption by "any adult person". There are no explicit prohibitions on adoption by same-sex couples or on second-parent adoptions. On February 11, 2014, the Idaho Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court ruling and held that an adoptive parent need not be married. It returned to the lower court the adoption petition of an Idaho woman who married another woman in California and sought to adopt her wife's 2 teenage sons.[13]

In addition, lesbian couples can access assisted reproduction services, such as in vitro fertilization. State law recognizes the non-genetic, non-gestational mother as a legal parent to a child born via donor insemination, but only if the parents are married.[14]

Discrimination protections

Map of Idaho counties and cities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances
  Sexual orientation and gender identity with anti–employment discrimination ordinance
  Sexual orientation and gender identity solely in public employment
  Sexual orientation in public employment
  Does not protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment

No provision of Idaho law explicitly addresses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,[15] a continuing omission which prompted the Add The Words, Idaho campaign of civil disobedience in 2014.[16]

The following Idaho counties and cities have ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (representing about 40% of the state population):[17] Ada County,[18][19] Bellevue,[20] Boise,[21] Coeur d'Alene,[21] Driggs,[22] Hailey,[23] Idaho Falls,[24][25] Ketchum,[21] Lewiston,[26][27] Meridian,[28][29] Moscow,[30] Pocatello,[31] Sandpoint,[21] and Victor.[32] The city of Twin Falls has an ordinance prohibiting city employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation only.[26] Latah County bans discrimination against county employees on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

On November 8, 1994, the voters of Idaho, by a 50.38% to 49.62% vote, rejected Initiative 1, an initiative that would have forbid state and local governments from granting minority status and rights based on homosexual behavior.[33]

On February 10, 2012, the Senate State Affairs Committee, by a 7-2 vote, killed a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in jobs, housing, educational opportunities and public accommodations.[34] In April 2014, a series of protests collectively known as Add The Words, Idaho began, which resulted in numerous arrests.[35]

On May 20, 2014, the voters of Pocatello, Idaho, by a 50.41% to 49.59% vote, rejected Proposition 1, an initiative that would have repealed the city's ordinance that prohibits discrimination with regard to housing, employment and public accommodations based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity and gender expression.[36]

On January 15, 2015, the House Ways and Means Committee voted 6-1 to hold a hearing on a bill that would have added language banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's Human Rights Act. It had been denied a hearing in each of the preceding nine years.[37] On January 29, the House State Affairs Committee voted 13-4 against the bill.[38]

Hate crime law

Idaho's hate crime law does not address hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation.[39] However, since the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law in October 2009, U.S. federal law has covered crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.[40]

Gender identity and expression

By 2018, Idaho was one of the only four U.S. states (Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee being the other three) which did not allow transgender people to alter their gender marker on their birth certificates. However, in March 2018, a federal judge ruled this unconstitutional. From April 6 onwards, transgender people in Idaho have been allowed to change their birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender identity. The ruling was labelled "a huge win" by transgender activists, who in 2017 had filed a lawsuit challenging the state law. While arguing that transgender people "already face disproportionately high levels of discrimination", the judge asserted that such discrepancies "can create risks to the health and safety of transgender people" and that said discrepancies were "archaic, unjust and discriminatory".[41] Sex reassignment surgery is not a legal requirement to change the gender marker on official documents.[14]

Since March 2019, Idaho has had a third gender option (known as "X") available on driver's licenses and state ID cards.[42][43]

In November 2019, the Idaho Board of Health and Welfare abolished a rule that required a doctor's approval for a gender change for transgender minors. Parental permission remains necessary.[44]

Public opinion

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) opinion poll found that 56% of Idaho residents supported same-sex marriage, while 32% opposed it and 13% were unsure.[2]

The same poll found that 68% of Idahoans supported an anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. 24% were opposed.[45] Furthermore, 51% were against allowing public businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people due to religious beliefs, while 40% supported allowing such religiously-based refusals.[46]

Public opinion for LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Idaho
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute January 3-December 30, 2018 359 ? 68% 25% 7%
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 461 ? 68% 24% 8%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 471 ? 70% 25% 5%

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 2003)
Equal age of consent (16) Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No/Yes (In some cities only)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No/Yes (In some cities only)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas No/Yes (In some cities only)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2014)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Lesbians, gays and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (Since 2011)
Transgender people allowed to serve openly in the military No (Federal policy)
Third gender option Yes (Since 2019)
Conversion therapy banned on minors No
Right to change legal gender Yes
Equal access to IVF for lesbian couples Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (1 year deferral period)


  1. ^ 31,800 LGBT People in Idaho Lack Statewide Protections from Ongoing Discrimination, The Williams Institute
  2. ^ a b "PRRI – American Values Atlas".
  3. ^ Haggerty, George; Zimmerman, Bonnie (2003). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 1135578702.
  4. ^ a b "The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States - Idaho".
  5. ^ New York Times: "Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Banning Sodomy," June 26, 2003, access April 14, 2011
  6. ^ "Section 18-6605 – Idaho State Legislature".
  7. ^ CNN: 2006 Key Ballot Measures, accessed April 14, 2011; Idaho State Legislature: Article III, Section 28, accessed January 6, 2007
  8. ^ Human Resources Campaign: Idaho Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law Archived 2012-07-25 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 14, 2011
  9. ^ Geidner, Chris (May 15, 2014). "No Friday Same-Sex Marriages In Idaho". BuzzFeed. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  10. ^ "Equality on Trial". October 7, 2014.
  11. ^ Sewell, Cynthia (October 10, 2014). "Otter says state should comply with gay-marriage order when it comes again". Idaho Statesman. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  12. ^ Kreusi, Kimberlee; Ridler, Keith (October 15, 2014). "Gay marriage arrives in conservative stronghold Idaho". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  13. ^ Zuckerman, Laura (February 11, 2014). "Idaho's top court grants adoptive rights to spouse in gay marriage". Reuters. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  14. ^ a b "Idaho's equality profile". Movement Advancement Project.
  15. ^ Human Resources Campaign: Idaho Non-Discrimination Law Archived 2012-04-30 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 14, 2011
  16. ^ "addthewordsidaho". addthewordsidaho.
  17. ^ "Idaho's Equality Profile". Movement Advancement project.
  18. ^ Inglet, Misty (February 12, 2020). "Ada County adopts non-discrimination ordinance: 'a clear message of inclusivity and tolerance'".
  19. ^ White, Madeline (February 12, 2020). "Ada County Commissioners unanimously vote to 'Add the Words'". KIVI Boise.
  20. ^ Evans, Tony (June 17, 2015). "Bellevue passes LGBT ordinance". The Idaho Mountain Express.
  21. ^ a b c d "Cities and Counties with Non-Discrimination Ordinances that Include Gender Identity". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  22. ^ "Driggs passes non-discrimination ordinance".
  23. ^ Brown, Nathan (May 26, 2015). "First Twin Falls Gay Couple to Get Marriage License Celebrates their Commitment". Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  24. ^ Russell, Betsy (September 13, 2013). "Idaho Falls bans housing, employment discrimination against gays". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved September 18, 2013. Idaho Falls has become the seventh city in Idaho to enact a local ordinance barring discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  25. ^ "City of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Code of Ordinances".
  26. ^ a b Baeza, Benito (January 16, 2013). "Lewiston Adds Sexual Orientation to City Policy". KLIX. Associated Press. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  27. ^ "Lewiston, Idaho Passes LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance". Towleroad. October 28, 2014.
  28. ^ "Meridian passes anti-discrimination ordinance". KIVI. September 26, 2018.
  29. ^ "Municipal Equality Index" (PDF). Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  30. ^ "Fourth Idaho city passes LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance". LGBTQ Nation. April 2, 2013.
  31. ^ "Pocatello Adopts Anti-discrimination Rule, Becoming 6th Idaho City to Protect GLBT People". Times-News. Associated Press. June 7, 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  32. ^ Saunders, Emilie Ritter. "Rural Border Town Becomes Idaho's 8th City To Approve Non-Discrimination Ordinance".
  33. ^ "IDSOS Idaho Initiative History".
  34. ^ "Idaho GOP refuses to 'add the words' to prohibit LGBT discrimination". LGBTQ Nation. February 12, 2012.
  35. ^ "Dozens more arrested in 'Add the Words' protest at Boise Capitol | The Spokesman-Review".
  37. ^ Kruesi, Kimberlee (January 15, 2015). "In reversal, Idaho lawmakers introduce sex orientation and gender identity protection bill". Daily Journal (Idaho). Associated Press. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  38. ^ "'Add the Words' bill dies in committee". KTVB. January 29, 2015.
  39. ^ Human Resources Campaign: Idaho Hate Crimes Law Archived 2012-07-25 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 14, 2011
  40. ^ Crimes of the Ignorant,
  41. ^ Mosbergen, Dominique (March 7, 2018). "Idaho Transgender Community Celebrates Victory In Birth Certificate Ruling". HuffPost.
  42. ^ "Gender Neutral ID's and Driver's Licenses". KPVI. March 26, 2019.
  43. ^ "Gender-neutral IDs available to Idahoans". LocalNews8.
  44. ^ Russell, Betsy (15 November 2019). "Idaho Cuts Rule Requiring Teens Get Doctor Approval For Birth Certificate Gender Change".
  45. ^ "PRRI – American Values Atlas".
  46. ^ "PRRI – American Values Atlas".
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