20 Years Ago, A Landmark SCOTUS Decision Kept Colorado From Staying The 'Hate State'

May 20, 2016

In the early 1990s, Colorado had a new nickname - the “hate state.” The state was missing out on millions of dollars from a boycott from across of the country, and Evangelical Christian groups were flocking to Colorado Springs.

Why? Because of a new amendment to the state constitution that made it legal to discriminate against LGBT people.

In 1992, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, a measure that forbid state and local governments from protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination. Amendment 2 was never enforced, and gay rights groups sued to overturn it.

Twenty years ago, May 20, 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment, finding it violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. That landmark case, Romer v. Evans, was decided by a 6-3 vote. Mary Celeste was one of the attorneys that worked on the case against Amendment 2, which she described at the time as “a license to discriminate.”

Mary Celeste, a retired Denver County Court judge, is now an adjunct faculty for the National Judicial College.

Interview Highlights With Mary Celeste

On What The Core Issue Was

“The core issue was twofold. It was a political issue, in that Amendment 2 was being cloned, so all eyes were on the results of the Supreme Court, if we lost there, then these initiatives would come forward across the country… and also there was the boycott that Colorado was experiencing as a result of the amendment passing. The other was of course legal… everyone was very tense… We were all waiting to see what the Supreme Court was going to do. We were hoping that it was going to be at least a 5-4 and of course we were ecstatic that it was 6-3 and that we won.”

On The Passage Of Amendment 2 By Voters

“Well it didn’t win by that much. I think it was close to 54 percent to 46 percent. Some of the propaganda that came out during that time, which we used during the case itself, was very misleading and very hurtful. I think that people were just misinformed.”

On What Would Have Happened If They Had Lost

“That was the first positive U.S. Supreme Court LGBT decision ever. All of the decisions prior to it, like the sodomy case in Georgia, the Bowers case, was negative, everything was negative, negative, negative. And if we had continued along those lines, I don’t think we would have as quickly at least been able to overturn the nationwide sodomy laws with the Lawrence v. Texas case… we would have not been able to pave the way to the military cases, to the marriage cases and now to some extent the religious freedom cases that are being developed.”