No violations, but plenty of opinions

City: No discrimination complaints yet

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COEUR d'ALENE - No one has ever been cited for violating the anti-discrimination ordinance at the heart of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week against the city of Coeur d'Alene by the owners of the Hitching Post wedding chapel.

City Attorney Mike Gridley told The Press Wednesday that he's unaware of any discrimination complaints being filed in the city since the ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation was adopted in June 2013.

Still, having the law on the books has made a difference, said longtime human rights leader Tony Stewart.

Stewart, a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said people experiencing discrimination usually seek the task force for help.

"We've had one call since it passed," Stewart said.

In that case, a small business owner presented some new policies to his employees. The employment directives covered a worker - a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - in an unacceptable way, Stewart said.

Norm Gissel, another local human rights leader, contacted the business owner.

"Within four hours the policy was dropped, because of the ordinance," Stewart said. "We never released the employer's name, because he did the right thing. It never went to the city."

Before the ordinance was adopted, Stewart said trying to help people was frustrating because there was no law protecting against this type of discrimination.

He said a student at North Idaho College contacted the task force a year prior to the law's adoption and reported that her landlord threw her out of her apartment after learning that she was a lesbian.

"He couldn't do that to her now," Stewart said.

The ordinance bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum penalty of $1,000 per incident and six months in jail.

The lawsuit against the city, filed by attorneys last week in federal court, claims that under the city's ordinance, Don and Evelyn Knapp, ordained Christian ministers who own the Hitching Post, a business in which they marry couples for a fee, are being forced to solemnize same-sex marriages.

The ordinance exempts religious entities, but the Knapps' business is not exempt because it is organized and registered as a for-profit limited liability company.

News of the lawsuit prompted dozens of online reports - mainly by conservative media outlets - that the city is threatening to arrest and jail the Knapps.

The city says it hasn't taken any action against the couple and has not received any complaint that the Hitching Post owners have broken any law.

The lawsuit claims the Hitching Post owners received a call Oct. 17 asking for a same-sex ceremony. The Knapps declined.

According to the lawsuit, for each day the Knapps decline to perform the ceremony, the couple racks up another $1,000 fine and another six months in jail.

"Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000," states the court document.

City Attorney Warren Wilson told The Press that might be the case, if it was a "continuing violation."

But it's not.

Wilson said if a business declines to serve someone because "we don't serve your type," and then several days later, they do it again, that would be two incidents, not a continuing violation.

"This is not intended in any way to be a harsh or overly punitive ordinance," Wilson said.

Coeur d'Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood said her department has never received any calls from anyone even asking about filing a complaint under the anti-discrimination ordinance.

"If we ever do receive a complaint from a citizen, a report will be taken and it will be properly investigated," Wood said. "It will then be forwarded to the City Attorney's Office for legal review."

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