Equal Protection Includes Gays

Article excerpt

It is not just the rights of gays and lesbians at stake in Colorado's anti-homosexual initiative, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. The rest of us have a big interest, too.

At issue before the court is Colorado's Amendment 2, a November 1992 referendum in which voters voted narrowly to overrule all local laws that barred discrimination against homosexuals.

Kevin Tebedo, executive director of the measure's sponsoring group, Colorado for Family Values, forged an instant coalition with moderates by wording the measure in a way that enabled supporters to be anti-gay without sounding anti-gay, the best of both terrible worlds.

As Tebedo said to me and others in interviews at the time, "We support equal rights, we only oppose granting anyone special rights."

That doesn't sound so bad, until he then declares any and all equal rights protections to be "special rights" when they are delineated for homosexuals.

Had his amendment gone into effect, Tebedo conceded, homosexuals could be refused not only housing, schooling or employment but also emergency-room care at hospitals.

Richard Evans, 35, of Denver, sued and the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the amendment "because it bars gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from having an effective voice in governmental affairs," particularly in seeking legislation that would protect them from discrimination.

Now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Evans' suit faces a tough audience. In its last homosexual rights case, Bowers vs. Hardwick, in 1986, the court ruled that police acted correctly when they busted in on two homosexuals while they were engaged in a private sex act and arrested them for it.

Three of those justices remain on the bench. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor voted that the Constitution did not protect private homosexual conduct. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented.

In its own way, that ruling was about as breathtaking as Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's historic declaration in 1857 that the black man had "no rights the white man was bound to respect" in the case of the slave Dred Scott, a decision that helped rush the nation into the Civil War. The Rehnquist court decided, in effect, that consenting homosexual adults had no privacy rights that the police were bound to respect.

Colorado's Amendment 2 goes further. It bans not only homosexual conduct but also civil rights protections under the cover of "protecting" the right of the rest of us from any "special" rights awarded to homosexuals. …