Hardy Interns Observe Key Lesbian/Gay Rights Case

by Isa Wolf, NOW Intern

 As the sky brightened, the words "Equal Justice Under Law" carved into the marble at the top of the Supreme Court slowly became visible. As we gathered up our belongings after camping overnight at the base of the building's steps, we hoped the newly illuminated phrase was an omen for the case we had come to hear -- the first major lesbian and gay rights case in years.

 Romer v. Evans is based on a Colorado ballot measure -- known as Amendment 2 -- that would prevent any community in Colorado from passing legislation to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination. Colorado is one of many states that have passed, or attempted to pass, anti-lesbian and gay legislation in recent years. (See "NOW, Students Defeat Anti-Lesbian/Gay Ballot Measure" story)

 The case is far more than a simple question of civil rights for lesbians and gay men. A broader issue at stake is whether it is constitutionally permissible to prevent any group from lobbying for and effecting change on its own behalf.

 With all these issues on the line, it was no wonder that the actual line to hear the case began at 10:30 the previous night and snaked around the block by 5 a.m.

 Our early arrival strategy and diligence paid off. Around 8 a.m., bundled, cold and tired prospective court watchers who had arrived before midnight were handed numbered cards entitling us to reserved seats. Those farther back in line, without the cards, were not going to be able to stay for the full arguments.

 Near us in line was Richard Evans, the lead plaintiff in the case. When I interviewed him for a term paper he said, "The gay rights movement in Boulder was victim to its own success. The rest of the state is very conservative."

 The number of people at the front of the line had grown through the night, which did not please those who were near the end. Slowly, two people became four; four, six; and around 6 a.m. a cab arrived with coffee for the freshly pressed, less haggard people who had arrived long after most of us, yet now were in front.

 There was hostility at first, with the cold, hunger and lack of sleep affecting those who had camped out for the night. Our ruffled feathers were smoothed when we discovered that the people who were slowly infiltrating the line were the ones who had been fighting against the amendment since its inception. Friendly and full of information, they were only too happy to share with us the details of the campaign they had waged for so many years.

 "The response to the amendment was drafted on my poker table," said Beverly Agelena Polena of Colorado. Questions of which way they thought the Supreme Court's ruling would go were met with shrugs. It has been 10 years since the vote in Bowers v. Hardwick, the case upholding the Georgia sodomy law, and no other cases challenging lesbian/gay-related legislation have been heard by the high court since then. Even for those who work in the movement, it was difficult to hazard a guess.

 While many believe that the questions asked by the justices have no relationship to their subsequent decisions, the mood of the justices could be described as skeptical. Sandra Day O'Connor, considered a swing vote, asked the first question of the representative of Colorado, Solicitor General Timothy Tymkovich. From that moment on, he got few words in edgewise.

 The decision is not expected until sometime in 1996. Until then, like those of us who waited in line all night, all activists can do is wait -- to see whether the decision will influence oppressive ballot measures expected in other states.

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