Lambda Defeats Antigay Amendment in Florida County
(NEW YORK, November 25, 1996) Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund announced Monday a Florida county victory that advances efforts to wipe out remaining anti-gay amendments since the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling against such measures last spring. Lambda defeated Alachua County's anti-gay Amendment 1 following arguments at a Circuit Court hearing in Gainesville, Florida.
Circuit Judge Frederick D. Smith, in a three-page decision late Friday, stated, "Amendment 1 is indistinguishable from the amendment struck down in Romer," the Colorado amendment that the Supreme Court rejected in Romer v. Evans last May as a violation of the Constitution's equal protection clause.
Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg, who argued against the amendment at a November 15 hearing in the case, Morris v. Hill, said, "Defeat of Alachua's Amendment 1 means that lesbian and gay residents in this Florida county cannot be banned from seeking the same protections against discrimination that their neighbors enjoy. Our victory drives another nail in the coffin of an irrational tactic against equal civil rights. "
Goldberg continued, "Judge Smith made it very clear that minor language changes between the Florida county and Colorado state amendments amounted to a distinction without a difference. The law simply cannot single out a group of citizens for discrimination no matter the words it uses to do so."
Commenting on the period since Lambda, as co-counsel, helped defeat the anti-gay amendment in Colorado, Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "We have seen state anti-gay referenda supporters withdraw measures in Oregon and Idaho as they realized their discriminatory strategies were futile. We expect to end this shameful chapter in American politics when we extinguish the anti-gay charter amendment in Cincinnati."
Dohrn noted, "The Supreme Court already has vacated a federal appeals court ruling upholding the Cincinnati amendment and sent the case back for review in light of Romer. Our final victory should come soon."
In his ruling, Smith noted the Supreme Court's words in the Romer ruling, which said, "A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense."
Smith added, "Under the analysis employed by the United States Supreme Court in Romer, there is no legitimate governmental interest that can support Amendment 1."
Passed by county voters in November 1994, the Alachua County amendment would have banned the Board of County Commissioners from adopting any ordinance that creates classifications based on sexual orientation or sexual preference except as necessary to conform to county ordinances, federal or state law.
Lambda's cooperating attorneys in the Alachua County case are Walter Reiman, Jacqueline Charlesworth, and Jamie Shapiro of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, and Larry Turner and Robert Griscti of Turner & Griscti, P.A., in Gainesville.