LOCATION: Colorado General Assembly
DOCKET NO.: 94-1039
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Colorado Supreme Court
CITATION: 517 US 620 (1996)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1995
DECIDED: May 20, 1996
Jean E. Dubofsky - on behalf of the Respondents
Timothy M. Tymkovich - on behalf of the Petitioners
Facts of the case
Colorado voters adopted Amendment 2 to their State Constitution precluding any judicial, legislative, or executive action designed to protect persons from discrimination based on their "homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships." Following a legal challenge by homosexual and other aggrieved parties, the state trial court entered a permanent injunction enjoining Amendment 2's enforcement. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed on appeal.
Does Amendment 2 of Colorado's State Constitution, forbidding the extension of official protections to those who suffer discrimination due to their sexual orientation, violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause?
Media for Romer v. EvansAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1995 in Romer v. Evans
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 20, 1996 in Romer v. Evans
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 94-1039, Romer against Evans will be announced by Justice Kennedy.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
I have the opinion for the Court in Romer versus Evans.
The central issue here is an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Colorado.
It is known as Amendment 2 and it was adapted after a State wide referendum in 1992.
The impetus of the Amendment came largely from ordinances that had been past in the Cities of Aspen, Boulder, and Denver banning discrimination in many areas, including housing, employment, public accommodations, and health and welfare services.
The ordinances had barred discrimination on various grounds including sexual orientation.
A limit to repeal the ordinances and forbids their reenactment to the extent that they prohibit discrimination on the basis of and this is a quotation from Amendment 2, “homosexuals, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships.”
The Amendment also prohibits any other legislative executive or judicial action at the state or local level to give specific legal protection of any sort the homosexuals or bisexual.
After a series of State Court proceedings, the Supreme Court of Colorado found that Amendment 2 violates the United States Constitution.
We granted certiorari.
We now affirm the judgment but on a rationale different from that adapted by the State Supreme Court.
The State's main argument in defense of Amendment 2 is that it put gays and lesbians in the same position as everyone else that is the Amendment only denies homosexuals’ especial rights.
We find this reading of the Amendment implausible in view with interpretation by the State Supreme Court.
Most States now choose to countered discrimination by enacting statutes that identifies certain institutions and business and then specify grounds, they may not use as basis for discrimination, but also did cover the institutions or business for discriminating on the basis of traits including age, military status, marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, custody of the minor child, political affiliation, physical and mental disability and in recent times sexual orientation.
Amendment 2 bars homosexuals from securing protection against the injury that these public accommodation laws address.
It also nullifies specific protection for gays in housing and insurance, health and welfare services, private education and employment, and forbids all laws or policies providing specific protection for gays or lesbians from discrimination by any level of Colorado's Government.
We cannot accept the view that Amendment 2 only deprives homosexuals' special rights.
No matter how local or discreet the harm they may suffer, no matter how public or widespread the injury, they can obtain protection from the laws only by enlisting the citizenry of Colorado to amend the State Constitution or perhaps, on the State's view, by trying to past helpful laws of general applicability.
The protections that Amendment 2 denies to homosexuals have taken for granted by most people either because they already have them or do no need them.
They have protections against exclusion from an almost limitless number of transactions that constitute ordinary civic life in a free society.
We have held that if a law neither burdens the fundamental right, nor targets a suspect class.
We will uphold the legislative classification so long as it bears a rational relationship to some legitimate end.
Amendment 2 however, fails and indeed defies this conventional inquiry.
First, it is not within our constitutional traditional to enact laws of this sort.
Counter both to the idea or the rule of law into our own constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principal that government and each of its parts remains open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance.
A law declaring that in general it should be more difficult for one group of citizens control others to sick aid from the government is a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.
Second, in addition to the far reaching deficiencies of the Amendment 2 just noted the principles it offends in another sense are conventional and venerable.
A law must bear rational relationship to an illegitimate governmental purpose and Amendment 2 does not.
The primary rationale that State offers for Amendment 2 is Respect for other citizens freedom of association and in particular the liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality.
Colorado also cites its interest in conserving resources to fight discrimination against other groups.