An examination of the United States Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans, which was decided on May 20, 1996, is to be put forth in this paper. The case was argued on October 10, 1995. At issue was Amendment 2 to the State Constitution of Colorado “which precludes all legislative, executive, or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect the status of persons based on their “homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships” (Romer v. Evans, 1995). The U.S. Supreme court held it violates the Equal Protection Clause. The opinion in favor was filed by Justice Kennedy, while the dissenting opinion was filed by Justice Scalia. The referendum, Article II sec 30b of the Colorado Constitution, read as follows: NO PROTECTED STATUS BASED ON HOMOSEXUAL, LESBIAN, OR BISEXUAL ORIENTATION.
Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices, or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of, or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the Constitution shall be in all respects self-executing (Romer v. Evans, 1996).
While many believed the law would prevent non-federal discrimination lawsuits based on sexual orientation as well as prevent the passage or the enforcing of existing laws prohibiting such discrimination, Amendment 2’s purpose was “generally inconsistent with mainstream American values” (Debbage Alexander, pg. 264). The State of Colorado argued the “measure does no more than deny homosexuals special rights” (Romer v. Evans, 1995). This is a decades old argument that right-wing Christian groups have used “to appeal to a wider, more secular audience by characterizing the gay rights movement as one aimed at getting “special rights” and “protected status” for gays and lesbians incorporated into civil rights law” (Debbage Alexander, pg. 273).
Justice Kennedy writes in the opinion in favor, “The State’s principal argument that Amendment 2 puts gays and lesbians in the same position as all other persons by denying them special rights is rejected as implausible” (Romer v. Evans, 1995). Justice Kennedy further states how “Amendment 2 confounds this normal process of judicial review. It is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board” (Romer v. Evans, 1995). The final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s opinion declares:
“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. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws. Amendment 2 violates the Equal Protection Clause, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Colorado is affirmed” (Romer v. Evans, 1995).
While Justice Scalia writes in his dissenting opinion, Amendment 2 is a “modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through the use of the laws” (Romer v. Evans, 1995). While Justice Scalia has the right to his own personal beliefs regarding homosexuality and its validity as a protected class, many others do not share them. As Richard Mohr observes in Romer v. Evans: A Blow for Justice, “All or nearly all legal burdens on gays appeal directly or indirectly to prejudice”. His article goes on to describe how in 1996 this ruling should affect two major gay issues: gays in the military and gay marriage.
When opponents cannot give logical reasons for their opposition it presupposes “strongly held beliefs for which one can offer no reasons or explanations are by definition prejudicial ones” (Mohr, para. 5). With the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Romer v. Evans “marked an immensely important day for the gay rights movement and a major setback for anti-gay rights activists of all persuasions” according to Sharon Debbage Alexander’s article in the Winter 2002 issue of Texas Forum on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights. Furthermore, this case has become one of the most significant decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to gay rights. The majority of those who have analyzed Romer v. Evans purport the “fact that the case was won using a rational basis test adds to the strength of the decision for gay rights” (Debbage Alexander, pg. 297).
Since the decision of Romer v. Evans, President Barack Obama has overturned the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy within our Armed Forces and gay marriage is currently under consideration in two cases that have been heard at the U.S. Supreme Court. After winning Boy Scouts of America v. Dale in 2000 protecting the groups First Amendment expressive association rights, recently the governing body of the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts within its membership, but not as Scout Leaders. The important issue of gay rights in America has finally reached the forefront of public policy and debate. As in Romer v. Evans, I hope that the United States Supreme Court will rule against the State of California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, to find both laws unconstitutional. In so far as to bring equality for all to these United States of America.