NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy and activists
celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended male-only admissions
at state-supported military academics; activists also hailed another ruling
that struck down Colorado's anti-lesbian and gay amendment.
Invigorated by a historic victory when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Colorado's Amendment 2, lesbian and gay rights activists now are focused on attacks against same-sex marriage and new versions of hostile ballot measures.
The Supreme Court delivered a significant civil rights breakthrough in Romer v. Evans, rejecting Colorado's anti-lesbian and gay amendment to the state's constitution, enacted by a 1992 ballot measure known as "Amendment 2." NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey, who led National NOW's "No on 2" campaign, called the 6-3 ruling "revolutionary."
"This decision makes it clear that homophobia is not a valid justification for the government to discriminate," said Dempsey, who also played a key role in NOW's successful campaign to defeat Maine's 1995 anti-lesbian and gay ballot measure.
The Court specifically rejected the radical right's strategy that gay rights are "special rights." "We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds. These protections . . . constitute ordinary civil life in a free society," Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority.
The positive effects of the court's ruling on similar measures in other states are already evident. Just weeks after the decision, radical right organizers in Oregon withdrew their anti-lesbian and gay ballot measure. A petition to place a similar initiative on Idaho's November ballot recently failed to receive enough signatures.
Given the majority opinion's emphasis on equal protection and fairness, similar measures are unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny. "It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort," wrote Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee.
Less certain is the decision's impact upon sodomy laws, prohibitions on same-sex marriage and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The potential for positive implications is seemingly evident in Justice Scalia's vitriolic reaction and demands by radical extremists for impeachment of the Court's majority.
In his scathing dissent, which Dempsey said "could have been written by Pat Buchanan," Scalia claims Amendment 2 is simply a "modest attempt . . . to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority."
The Colorado constitutional amendment, approved by 53 percent of voters, repealed existing anti-discrimination ordinances in Aspen, Boulder and Denver and prohibited the passage of any such future ordinances. The Colorado Supreme Court declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional in 1994.
Although a district court injunction prevented the amendment from taking effect, civil rights organizations led a boycott that cost the state an estimated $40 million in lost tourism. In November 1992, NOW resolved not to hold any board meetings, conferences or events in Colorado until the amendment was overturned.
NOW has actively challenged anti-lesbian and gay measures for more than 20 years. At the 1992 National Conference, NOW reaffirmed that commitment with a resolution opposing all efforts "designed to legalize and promote anti-lesbian and ga discrimination." And a 1995 conference resolution pledging NOW support led to a grassroots campaign that defeated Maine's discriminatory ballot question.
While the judicial victory merits a celebration, lesbians and gay men continue the struggle for full equality under the law. This year has seen preemptive legislative attacks on recognition of same-sex marriage on the federal and state levels.
Presidential hopeful Bob Dole has been using same-sex marriage to drive a wedge between President Clinton and the lesbian and gay community. Dole recently sponsored the inappropriately-named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), an unprecedented attempt to bring the definition of marriage into the federal arena when marriage law has always been the domain of the states.
Caving in to religious political extremists, Clinton agreed to sign the anti-marriage bill, which also gives states the power to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states -- a clearly unconstitutional practice under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution.
Regardless of DOMA, the same-sex marriage battle will return to the states where it has been fought for the past year. Of the anti-marriage bills introduced in 37 states, 19 are dead, 15 have been enacted, and three are pending. Religious extremists vow to reintroduce bills in states that didn't ban same-sex marriage this year.
Proponents of the federal and state legislation claim their bills are necessary to counter the imminent possibility that Hawaii will soon legalize same-sex marriage. In reality, a decision in the Hawaii case, Baehr v. Lewin, is not expected for at least two years. NOW activists will continue public education campaigns until same-sex relationships are recognized fully under the law.
Delegates at NOW's 1996 National Conference declared next Valentine's Day a National Day of Action in Support of Same-Sex Marriage. NOW's Lesbian Rights Program Staff will develop an organizing kit for chapters across the country to take part in this coordinated action.
With the radical extremists playing election year politics with
the lives of lesbians and gay men, the Supreme Court will likely bear the
brunt of making final decisions, and NOW will continue to take action for
equality for all people.
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