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Politics

Gay Rights And Colorado: Supreme Court Overrides State Amendments In 1995 And 2015

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Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states, including Colorado following a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

Colorado still has a state constitutional amendment on the books that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman. That amendment was passed by voters in 2006.

The Obergefell v. Hodges decision announced June 26, 2015 overrides Colorado's amendment, said Melissa Hart, a professor at the University of Colorado law school’s Constitutional Law Center.

“The constitutional amendment making marriage only between a man and a woman is null and void, in the same way that the U.S. Supreme Court said that our Amendment 2 was unconstitutional,” said Hart.

This isn't the first time a Supreme Court decision has nullified part of Colorado’s constitution. In a 6-to-3 decision in 1995 the Supreme Court threw out another of Colorado’s voter passed amendments. That case, Romer v. Evans, also dealt with same-sex rights, said Jennifer Hendricks, a professor at the University of Colorado law school.

"This decision alone isn't enough to say that we're going to have equal rights across the board."

“Basically, a person could never no matter how arbitrarily the government treated them, claim discrimination if they were being targeted for their sexual orientation.”

The Supreme Court struck down that amendment. Justice Kennedy authored the opinion, saying the measure was enacted for the purpose of harming a particular group of people thus violating the equal protection clause.

“It was really the first big case where the Supreme Court indicated some openness to gay and lesbian equal rights,” Hendricks said.

The court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015 does not mean that gays and lesbians have the same rights in employment as other Americans, Hendricks cautions.

”This decision alone isn’t enough to say that we’re going to have equal rights across the board,” she said.

Currently, no federal law prevents employers from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation. Hendricks adds that the future of the Employment Non Discrimination Act on a federal level will be called into question.

She says that even though same-sex couples have been able to get married in Colorado since October 2014, after a Circuit court decision, the 2015 Supreme Court decision gives them peace of mind.

"If this case had come out the other way, the state might have tried to revive the ban, does that mean same-sex marriages performed before are or are not valid, so just having that settled is really important for people," said Hendricks.

"And then obviously, knowing that you can move to another state and that your marriage will still count."

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