by Michael Ditto|
Here in Colorado and across the country, Amendment 2 has been a leading indicator of things to come in the fight for equal rights not just for gay and lesbian people, but for all groups of people who face discrimination and abuse on a day to day basis.
The scope of the amendment to Colorado's constitution was much larger than just the gay and lesbian community. Yes, it would have taken away the right of municipalities and the state legislature to pass laws providing gays and lesbians basic human rights, but the potential of this amendment would have been to remove all laws protecting minorities from being treated differently than any other person.
Fortunately, our United States Supreme Court has chosen, by a six to three majority, that it is unconstitutional to single out a group of people to be exempted from civil rights legislation.
Says Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, "We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do."
Essentially, the Supreme Court has said that it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to single out a group of people and make them strangers to the laws of the cities and state of Colorado. What does this mean to us on a nationwide scale? Well, that remains to be seen, as other legislation to take away basic human rights is being considered by several other states in the union, as well as a movement here in Colorado to reword the amendment and try again.
The passage of this amendment in the first place was a mistake, as many pro-Amendment 2 voters have said.
"The way the amendment was worded on the ballot was confusing. I voted the wrong way because of how the question was posed," says one Denver resident.
In any case, regardless of the true feelings of Colorado residents, this amendment which was passed into law has now been struck down by the US Supreme Court.
According to State Attorney General Gail Norton, who was arguing in support of the amendment on behalf of the state, this decision has taken away the meaning of the voter's opinions as they express them at the polls. While this may seem to be the case, the purpose of the Supreme Court in the history of this country has been to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed. In this case, they have determined that a law passed by the citizens of the State of Colorado is in violation of the United States Constitution, a decision which was fully in their power to make.
Will Perkins, Chairman of Colorado for Family Values, says, "I think it's very possible there will be an effort by the American people to say, 'This is not right,' and one of their recourses would be to impeach those (on the US Supreme Court) who put out this decision." Perkins, leader of the group most vocally in support of the amendment, views this decision as a slap in the face of Colorado voters, and has said that he would participate in a campaign to impeach those six members of the Supreme Court who chose to deem this law unconstitutional. Fortunately for gays and lesbians, if such a campaign were successful, the orders of the Supreme Court stand final, regardless of any impeachment proceedings which may take place after a court decision.
As for the meaning of this decision for all of us on a national level, I think Mr. Wellington Webb, Mayor of the City of Denver, sums it up best.
"Today is a day of celebration. While this is a major victory, it points out the importance of remaining vigilant in the area of human rights. Let me make it clear-there are those who still believe that it is appropriate to discriminate against others. This ruling should be a foundation rather than the final goal for the continuing battle for human rights in this country."
Though this decision may seem like the end of our fight for rights, we must know that it is only the beginning. While the Supreme Court decision may establish precedent for the abolishment or prevention of similar laws in other states, we are still not guaranteed the fundamental rights concerning work, housing and schooling that everyone else is; nor do we have the privileges that married heterosexuals have, such as reduced insurance costs, health care and pension benefits (although some progressive companies are extending some of these benefits to their employees).
In Colorado we (the gay and lesbian community) are very happy this decision was made. We no longer have this law hanging over our heads, threatening to take away the rights given us in the City of Denver by people who do not even live there. However, the scope of those rights protected by the city government are only as large as the scope of the city, and they do not apply even in the suburbs around Denver.
Not only that, but Colorado for Family Values does still exist, and is going strong. It is a huge political organization, taking, on average (before the Supreme Court decision), 1,100 phone calls or letters per day. In Colorado, we have won the battle, but definitely not the war. For the rest of the country, I hope that the Amendment 2 decision is an inspiration for gays and lesbians to continue to strive for their rights to live and work, peacefully and happily.