WASHINGTON – The area’s homosexual community and the governments of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have taken sides in the controversy over a Colorado state amendment limiting gay rights.
The Supreme Court on Oct. 10 will be asked to wrestle with the issue of whether states’ rights should take precedence over gay rights, when it hears Romer v. Evans.
The case stems from a 1992 ballot amendment to the Colorado Constitution, which blocked the state from giving civil rights protections to homosexuals.
It represents the first time a ballot initiative restricting homosexual rights has been heard by the Supreme Court, although many similar initiatives have been struck down by lower courts, according to a statement from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Lamda has worked since 1973 to secure equal rights for homosexuals.
The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia signed on as a friend-of-the-court to oppose Amendment Two and support homosexual rights. They join six other states and a slew of legal and human rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization for Women, in their opposition.
“We do not believe that it makes sense for a majority [of voters] to be able to disable the power of the government to protect another group’s rights,” said Carmen Shepard, a Maryland assistant attorney general.
Virginia is one of seven states that signed on as friend-of- the-court supporting Amendment Two and states’ rights.
Mark Miner, a spokesman for the Virginia attorney general’s office, said the state decided to support Colorado because a decision on the case could affect current or future legislation.
Colorado officials argued in their petition to have the case heard by the Supreme Court that voters of a state have the right to prevent that state from protecting a “disfavored” group from discrimination.
About 53 percent of Colorado voters supported the amendment on the 1992 ballot.
Lesbians and gays appealed the provision, and it was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1993. Colorado officials appealed the state court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in February to hear the case.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision demonstrated “unjustified interference with the state’s sovereignty,” state officials argued.
Colorado also claims that the amendment was intended to prevent homosexuals from receiving preferred legal status, not to eliminate their legal rights or condone illegal behavior.
Opponents of Amendment Two counter that it violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says states shall not deny any person the equal protection of its laws.
Richard Womack, acting executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said current struggles for civil rights by the homosexual community are no different than the racial or gender-based struggles of the past.
“The efforts of some groups to deny gay people basic civil rights is an unconscionable attack on all of our civil rights,” Womack said. “Amendment Two is unjust, un-American and unconstitutional.”
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund and an opponent of Amendment Two, said people often do not realize what little civil rights protections homosexuals have.
“Most people do not know that it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in the 41 states that do not have civil rights protection based on sexual orientation,” Birch said.
Maryland and Virginia are among those offering no broad civil rights protections for gays, officials from those jurisdictions said. However, Gov. Parris Glendening recently issued an executive order forbidding the discrimination of state employees based on sexual orientation. In the District of Columbia, a 1977 act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, said William Stansfield, spokesman for D.C. Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development. -30-