May 20, 1996– SCOTUS Strikes Down Colorado’s Amendment 2
Romer v. Evans remains a landmark United States Supreme Court case for LGBTQ people and for the issue of States’ Rights. It was the first Supreme Court case to address Gay Rights since Bowers v. Hardwick a decade earlier.
It seems nearly impossible to believe today in our own progressive modern era, but there was a time, long ago, when states were attempting to limit the Civil Rights of LGBTQ people.
Amendment 2 was a statewide anti-gay initiative prohibiting any branch of government in Colorado from passing legislation or adopting policies prohibiting discrimination against gay people. The measure was passed in November 1992 by 53 percent of Colorado’s voters. It asked if Colorado’s constitution should be amended to:
“Prohibit the state of Colorado and any of its political subdivisions from adopting or enforcing any law or policy which provides that homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, or relationships constitutes or entitles a person to claim any minority or protected status, quota preferences, or discrimination.”
“Don’t ski in Colorado, don’t hike there, don’t hold your convention there, don’t visit there…”: these were the messages coming from our friends in Hollywood, indeed, from LGBTQ people and their friends and family from across our great big beautiful country in the weeks after Colorado became known as “The Hate State”. Among the celebrities calling for a boycott of Colorado were Martina Navratilova, Barbra Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor, all who owned lovely homes in scenic Aspen.
The ACLU, the Colorado Legal Initiatives Project, and Lambda Legal won preliminary court injunctions that kept the measure from taking effect until all the lawsuits were resolved. The case made its way through the courts before landing with SCOTUS, which, on this day, May 20, 1996, struck down Amendment 2 in a landmark 6–3 ruling.
By declaring Amendment 2 unconstitutional, the Supremes made it clear that Anti-Gay sentiment does not justify governmental discrimination and shattered the whole “special rights” rhetoric of those who oppose equal treatment for gays.
All over the USA, the bigots and the haters in the early 1990s mounted voter initiatives at local and state levels to try and block and repeal the passage of laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. This case was supposed to put an end to those efforts and pave the way for other states and local governments to ban discrimination.
This landmark victory was the single most positive SCOTUS ruling in the history of the Gay Rights Movement when it was decided 21 years ago. It was the first Supreme Court case to address Gay Rights since the dreadful Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), when SCOTUS had held that laws criminalizing sodomy were constitutional. It was the beginning of a turnaround in our culture. The Court’s ruling made it clear that gay folks have the same right to seek government protection against discrimination in the USA as any other group of people. The decision also marked a new level of legal respect for the LGBTQ community, rejecting the notion that it is legitimate for the government to discriminate against gay people based on religious objections to homosexuality. So it was decided.
In the four years after the citizens of Colorado voted for it, as the case made its way through the courts, Proposition 2 never actually became the law in Colorado.
In May 2013, civil unions became legal in Colorado. The state joined eight other states with similar laws. In October 2014, Colorado joined ten other states, plus the District Of Columbia, permitting Same-Sex Marriage. Today, 70 percent of the residents of Colorado support the rights of gay people to live full lives with full Equality.
Possibly related, also on this day in 1873, Levi Strauss, a good-looking Jew and very possibly a gay man, received a US patent for jeans with copper rivets. Strauss had been making canvas trousers to sell to the California gold miners for year. More and more miners were coming to Strauss and asking him for a pair of those canvas pants. Not entirely happy with canvas, Levi switched to using denim, a new cotton fabric from Italy. The weavers there called the fabric “genes.” Strauss changed the name to “jeans” and later guys started called his pants “Levi’s”. Whatever the name, Levi’s new pants were hugely popular with miners, cowboys and interior decorators. By 1874, the “Castro Clone” look took hold and gym memberships soared because a dude needed to look fine in his Levis.