Statement of Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg on U.S. Supreme Court's Striking Down Colorado's Amendment 2
(NEW YORK, May 20, 1996) The Supreme Court's ruling today in Romer v. Evans is a breakthrough victory for lesbians and gay men throughout the United States. This landmark, 6-3 ruling should shape the course of civil rights in the United States for decades to come and is the single most positive Supreme Court ruling in the history of the gay rights movement.
The Supreme Court decision makes clear that gay bashing by ballot initiative is unconstitutional. All Americans, gay and non-gay alike, share the same right to seek government protection against discrimination. The Court, relying on a hallmark of American justice, makes clear that a majority cannot trample the rights of an unpopular minority by amending the rules of political participation.
Amendment 2 would have barred all branches of Colorado's state and local government, including public agencies and public schools, from ever prohibiting discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. For example, if a lesbian employee showed that she faced job discrimination, or a student experienced anti-gay harassment in public school, government officials would have been powerless to protect those individuals had Amendment 2 not been invalidated today.
This ruling shatters the "special rights" rhetoric of those who oppose equal treatment for lesbians and gay men.
The Court's majority says: "We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds. These are protections taken for granted by most people, either because they already have them, or do not need them; these are protections against exclusion from an almost limitless number of transactions and endeavors that constitute ordinary civic life in a free society."
The Court's ruling marks an important shift in Supreme Court responses to anti-gay discrimination. Just ten years ago, the Court relied on the "moral disapproval of homosexuality" to justify upholding Georgia's "sodomy" law in Bowers v. Hardwick. Today the Court has said that anti-gay sentiment does not justify governmental discrimination.
We believe the ruling should have ramifications for other attempts to treat gay people as second-class citizens -- including the military's ban on openly gay service members and proposals to prohibit legal recognition of same-sex couples' marriages.
While we are elated with the ruling, Americans should understand that in Colorado and 40 other states, lesbians and gay men remain without statewide anti-discrimination protections. This ruling simply leaves us free to continue the fight for anti-discrimination laws in our states, cities, and towns. --30 --