Romer v. Evans

517 U.S. 620 (1996)
Download Judgment: English
Country: United States
Region: Americas
Year: 1996
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Health Topics: Health care and health services, Sexual and reproductive health
Human Rights: Freedom from discrimination
Tags: Gay, Homosexual, Lesbian, LGBTI, Sexual orientation

Petitioners (supporters of Amendment 2) brought this appeal from the Colorado State Supreme Court where that court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Amendment 2 was invalid. Amendment 2 barred the State of Colorado from enacting, adopting or enforcing anti-discrimination laws which would have protected homosexuals, gays and lesbians.

Prior to Amendment 2, multiple cities in Colorado enacted general anti-discrimination laws and ordinances in various areas including housing, employment, education, public accommodations and health and welfare services. Amendment 2 was passed in a 1992 statewide referendum due to the controversy surrounding these anti-discrimination laws protecting individuals based on their sexual orientation.

The petitioners in this case argued that Amendment 2 did no more than disallow a favored status based on sexual orientation. The petitioners asserted that Amendment 2 only barred the State of Colorado from giving homosexuals, gays and lesbians special rights under anti-discrimination laws. These special rights, they argued, were not afforded to other individuals and therefore Amendment 2 did not discriminate against homosexuals, gays and lesbians.

Respondents (opponents of Amendment 2) initially filed the claim to have Amendment 2 declared invalid in Colorado State Court. Respondents included homosexual persons who asserted that enforcement of Amendment 2 would subject them to discrimination. The respondents also included municipalities and other entities that had enacted and enforced anti-discrimination laws protecting homosexuals in their jurisdictions. These entities would be barred from continuing to protect homosexuals under Amendment 2.

The US Supreme Court held that Colorado’s Amendment 2 violated the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for two reasons: 1) Amendment 2 imposes a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group; and 2) Amendment 2 does not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate government purpose. Under the Equal Protection Clause, a law must bear a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest.

First, the Court reasoned that Amendment 2 is both too narrow and too broad in that it “identifies persons based on a single trait and then denies them protections” broadly. Therefore, general rational basis review cannot be performed for Amendment 2. This in itself makes Amendment 2 invalid.

Second, the Court declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional because there is no rational relationship between Amendment 2 and a legitimate government purpose. The reasoning offered by supporters of Amendment 2 such as freedom of association for individuals against homosexuals, gays and lesbians appear to be a veiled attempt to discriminate against persons with a disfavored trait as opposed to furthering a legitimate government purpose

“Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance.” Page 633 of Romer v. Evans.

“Equal protection of the laws is not achieved through indiscriminate imposition of inequalities.” Page 633 of Romer v. Evans, quoting Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 635 (1950) (quoting Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 22 (1948)).

“The guaranty of ‘equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws.’” Pages 633-34 of Romer v. Evans, quoting Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (quoting Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 (1886)).

“[I]f the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare …desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate government interest.” Pages 634-35 of Romer v. Evans, quoting Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534 (1973).