The United States Supreme Court June 17 flexed the muscle in its landmark ruling against a Colorado amendment to ban gay rights protections and reversed a federal appeals court's upholding of an anti-gay city charter amendment in Cincinnati. The action throws the Cincinnati case back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, signaling that the appeals court's reasoning was fatally flawed and now must conform to the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection as was powerfully affirmed for lesbians and gay men in last month's Romer v. Evans ruling. This action should kill Issue 3.
"We convinced the federal trial court in 1994, to strike down Issue 3 based on the same long-standing constitutional principles set out by Justice Kennedy in the Colorado case," said Patricia M. Logue, managing attorney for the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "We are grateful that Judge Arthur Spiegel's thoughtful decision, although reversed by the Sixth Circuit, has now been vindicated by the Supreme Court," she said.
Suzanne B. Goldberg, staff attorney for Lambda, which was co-counsel in both the Colorado and Cincinnati cases, said, "The Court today shows the power behind its ruling last month that knocked out a virtually identical Colorado measure: the equal rights of lesbians and gay men must be respected at all levels of government." Goldberg, who oversees Lambda's national project on anti-gay initiatives, added, "After weathering a nationwide onslaught of anti-gay and anti-civil rights measures, we are beginning to emerge triumphant in this arena."
The order marks the first time that the country's highest court has applied its landmark ruling in Romer v. Evans striking down Colorado's Amendment 2, which was passed by voters in 1992, and, like Cincinnati's 1993 voter-approved measure, would have banned laws prohibiting anti-gay discrimination.
Issue 3 would have amended the city charter to ban any city laws and policies that would prohibit discrimination against gay Cincinnati residents in employment, housing, and other areas. In effect, lesbians and gay men would be required to jump extra hurdles even to ask for protections available to all other citizens. Today's Supreme Court action means that the Sixth Circuit now must revise its earlier ruling to make it consistent with the high court decision that in May rejected Colorado's Amendment 2 on equal protection grounds.
A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit held Issue 3 constitutional in May 1995, a decision which departed from every previous ruling by other courts on similar anti-gay amendments. Nine months earlier, Judge S.Arthur Speigel had invalidated the Cincinnati measure on numerous constitutional grounds.
Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, formed by gay rights supporters to fight Issue 3, joined with six other lesbian and gay Cincinnateans to sue the city with the help of a legal team that includes Lambda's Logue and Goldberg, Ohio attorneys Alphonse Gerhardstein and Richard Cordray, and Scott Greenwood of the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization working on behalf of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS, has headquarters in New York City and offices in Chicago and Los Angeles. A Southern Regional Office in Atlanta will be opened in 1997.