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Gay-rights forces win major test at high court

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Copyright � 1996
Copyright � 1996 The Associated Press
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  •  WASHINGTON (May 20, 1996 2:00 p.m. EDT) -- The Supreme Court today handed gay-rights advocates their biggest legal victory, throwing out a Colorado constitutional amendment that forbids laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

     The Colorado amendment violates homosexuals' constitutional right to equal protection, the court ruled, 6-3, in its most significant gay-rights case in a decade. In 1986, the justices upheld a Georgia law that criminalized homosexual sex for consenting adults.

     Today's ruling did not decide the legality of homosexual conduct.

     The justices said the Colorado amendment denies gays a political right enjoyed by everyone else -- the chance to seek protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

     "We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. "This Colorado cannot do. A state cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws."

     President Clinton "believes today's decision was appropriate," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. He called the Colorado amendment "bad policy ... inconsistent with our common values."

     The amendment, approved in 1992, has never been enforced because it was immediately challenged in court by gay men and women as well as three Colorado cities that had enacted gay-rights ordinances.

     Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "Today's opinion has no foundation in American constitutional law, and barely pretends to." He called the amendment "a modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through use of the laws."

     His dissent was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas.

     Joining Kennedy's majority opinion were Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

     The Colorado Supreme Court had invalidated the constitutional amendment on the ground it denied gays an equal voice in government.

     The amendment approved by 53.4 percent of the state's voters would have canceled gay-rights ordinances enacted in Denver, Boulder and Aspen and barred the enactment of any other gay-rights laws or policies by the state or local governments.

     Gay-rights activists said local anti-discrimination ordinances extend civil rights protection to homosexuals but grant them no special privileges.

     But the state's lawyer argued before the justices that Colorado's voters could determine that all gay-rights issues must be decided on the state level rather than by various city governments.

     Voter approval of the amendment led gay-rights activists to organize a boycott of Colorado tourism that cost about $40 million in convention business.

     Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, said today, "We are jubilant, and this is an outstanding moral victory. All the way to the Supreme Court the tone of this country has changed with regard to gays and lesbians... Gay people are full citizens of this country and have to be treated as such."

     Gary Bauer, president of the conservative Family Research Council which supported Colorado's effort to reinstate the amendment, said, "It's a very dark day for the liberty rights of the American people."

     "The judges seem to be saying that there are some matters so important that we will not allow the American people to decide them," Bauer said.

     Kennedy's majority opinion said the Colorado amendment "identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board... It is not within our constitutional traditions to enact laws of this sort."

     He said one of the primary rationales advanced for the amendment was that it protected landlords or employers with personal or religious objections to homosexuality. But he said the amendment did not relate to that purpose.

     "The amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects," wrote Kennedy, who read from his opinion on the bench for six minutes. "It is a classification of persons undertaken for its own sake, something the Equal Protection Clause does not permit."

     Scalia, who read from his dissent for 11 minutes, said the Colorado amendment "is designed to prevent piecemeal deterioration of the sexual morality favored by a majority of Coloradans."

     "This court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that animosity toward homosexuality ... is evil," Scalia said.

     The Clinton administration decided not to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the Colorado case, despite the president's support of federal legislation to bar most job discrimination against gays. Attorney General Janet Reno said last summer officials decided to stay out of the case because there was no federal law at issue.

     But numerous other briefs were filed. Supporting Colorado's effort to reinstate the amendment were the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and the states of Alabama, California, Idaho, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia.

     Backing the gay-rights supporters were the American Bar Association, the National Education Association and the states of Oregon, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Washington and the District of Columbia.

     Maine voters defeated a proposed anti-gay-rights measure in November.

     The case is Romer vs. Evans, 94-1039.

    Opinion| Survey: Lies or Opinions?| Justice Ginzberg's Background| Syllabus| UVa Speech| Biography| Ginzberg & Gays| Picture| VMI Forum| Dissenting Opinion| Excerpts from Dissenting Opinion| Guestbook| Phyllis Schaffley on VMI

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