NewsHour: Supreme Court on Gay Rights – May 20, 1996

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s most notable rulings came in two very different cases. The first struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that forbid any city or the state from adopting laws or ordinances to protect homosexuals from discrimination. The second struck down a $2 million punitive damages award won by an Alabama doctor unhappy with the paint job on his new BMW. For more on today’s decisions, we’re joined by NewsHour regular Stuart Taylor, a correspondent with The American Lawyer and Legal Times. Stuart, start by telling us what exactly did this Colorado constitutional amendment say and how did it end up in the state constitution?

STUART TAYLOR, The American Lawyer: The amendment wiped out several local ordinances that towns in Colorado — Aspen, Denver, and Boulder — had adopted protecting gays against discrimination and further said that from here on no town in the state itself cannot adopt any gay rights ordinances protecting gays against discrimination or giving them preferences. That is what the Colorado voters adopted by referendum in 1992.

MARGARET WARNER: And so in striking down this amendment, what was the reasoning of the majority of the Supreme Court?

MR. TAYLOR: The court ruled 6-3 that it violates the equal protection cause of the 14th Amendment by denying equal protection of the laws to homosexuals. It stressed that this is a very broad and undifferentiated disability applied on homosexuals across the board, that they cannot seek the protection of the laws in the ordinary way for any form of discrimination against them as homosexuals.

MARGARET WARNER: So just to be clear here, they weren’t upholding a specific gay-rights law; rather, they were simply saying gays could not be precluded from seeking such laws.