Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Oregon and Colorado faced referenda limiting the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Oregon’s Measure 9 was defeated at the polls, but Colorado’s Amendment 2 passed. Amendment 2 was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court’s ruling marks the first time the nation’s high court acknowledged gays and lesbians as citizens deserving of some degree of civil rights.

Summary of Event

At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Republican National Convention, and declarations of “cultural war” Christian Coalition Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson Robertson, Pat referred to a “cultural war” in the United States. Later that year, that cultural war was dramatically enacted in statewide campaigns about gay and lesbian rights in Oregon and Colorado. Conservative organizations in both states gathered signatures to place referenda on the November 3, 1992, statewide ballots. [kw]Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives (Nov. 3, 1992) [kw]Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives, Oregon and (Nov. 3, 1992) [kw]Antigay Initiatives, Oregon and Colorado Attempt (Nov. 3, 1992) Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement] Colorado antigay intiatives Oregon;antigay intiatives Measure 9, Oregon[Measure 09] Amendment 2, Colorado[Amendment 02] Discrimination;Oregon Discrimination;Colorado Antigay movement [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Nov. 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives[2220] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives[2220] Dubofsky, Jean Evans, Richard G. Romer, Roy

The Oregon Citizens Alliance Oregon Citizens Alliance proposed ballot Measure 9, the more extreme of the two referenda, which grouped homosexuality with pedophilia, sadism, and masochism, declaring all to be “abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.” The measure required that governmental entities, including public schools, promote this view of homosexuality, especially to youth, and prohibited governmental efforts to “promote, encourage, or facilitate” homosexuality (or pedophilia, sadism, or masochism). Colorado for Family Values Colorado for Family Values "Family values"[family values];Colorado proposed Amendment 2, which prohibited any governmental body from adopting any ordinance offering claims of “any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination” to gay, lesbian, or bisexual (GLB) Coloradans. Amendment 2 effectively nullified existing antidiscrimination ordinances in the state and prohibited the enactment of any such ordinances in the future.

The campaigns against gay rights in the two states drew on the same printed materials and a video, The Gay Agenda, Gay Agenda, The (videotape) all of which exploited long-standing stereotypes of GLB people and antipathy toward them. The campaigns divided each state, with the two sides engaging in vitriolic accusations. Antigay hate crimes were reported in both states, but the atmosphere grew especially heated in Oregon, where churches were desecrated, serious threats against GLB campaign workers were commonplace, and two people—a lesbian and a gay man—were killed when their house was torched by arsonists. Despite such tensions, GLB people from Oregon and Colorado came out in significant numbers and many heterosexual allies, including major public figures, took visible stands for GLB people and their rights.

The election results were split. Oregon voters rejected Measure 9, 56.5 to 43.5 percent; Colorado voters endorsed Amendment 2, 53 to 47 percent. In the aftermath of its loss in the 1992 election, the Oregon Citizens Alliance sponsored a variety of antigay referenda at the county level as well as subsequent statewide referenda. During the same period, GLB people in Oregon Political activism;and Christian Right[Christian Right] built an organization designed not only to fight such ballot measures but also to build a comprehensive pro-gay movement in the state.

Colorado’s GLB community was similarly galvanized after the passage of Amendment 2. The first order of business was to activate pre-election contingency plans for a judicial challenge to Amendment 2. The legal team, headed by Jean Dubofsky, initiated the case that ultimately became Romer v. Evans Romer v. Evans (1996)[Romer v Evans] (1996). Colorado governor Roy Romer, who ironically had publicly opposed Amendment 2 prior to his election, chose to defend it against a postelection legal challenge. “Evans” was Richard G. Evans, one of seven individuals who, along with the cities of Boulder, Denver, and Aspen and the Boulder Valley School District, were plaintiffs in the case.

On January 15, 1993, Colorado district judge Jeffrey Bayless granted an injunction: Amendment 2 would not go into effect until the courts heard arguments and rendered a decision about its constitutionality. Later that year, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the injunction and, after a full trial on the merits of the case, declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional on December 14, 1993.

The state of Colorado appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Supreme Court, U.S.;discrimination and arguments were heard in October of 1995. In a decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and handed down on May 20, 1996, the Court declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional. The ruling argued that the amendment violated the constitutional right to equal protection and lacked a rational basis for singling out GLB people. Justice Antonin Scalia penned a scathing dissent on behalf of himself and two other justices. Their dissent notwithstanding, Amendment 2 never took legal effect in Colorado.

Significance

The success of the campaign against Oregon’s Measure 9 suggests that antigay politics could be effectively countered. On the other hand, the passage of Colorado’s Amendment 2 demonstrated that some American voters were capable of expressing bias toward GLB people at the ballot box. This fact caused significant pain, fear, and anger in Colorado and in other states. Furthermore, the election demonstrated that appeals to “special rights” were especially effective and difficult to counter. The campaign and election also suggested the potential gains for conservatives in pursuing antigay measures, because they provided a means to raise money and galvanize voters. In retrospect, these measures were a harbinger of the subsequent practice of using GLB rights as political wedge issue.

Conservatives were inspired by Amendment 2 to propose similar antigay ordinances in a variety of locations; many petition drives never made it to the ballot box, but some did. However, these efforts were met with intensive and widespread organizing by GLB communities. These campaigns challenged many people in Colorado, in Oregon, and throughout the nation to come out and to take explicit public stands on behalf of GLB rights. Some GLB communities began to look more seriously at the internal divisions that hampered their efforts—divisions based on such factors as race, gender, the degree to which a person was out, and rural-urban differences. The awareness of the very real dangers posed by prejudice against GLB people prompted many heterosexuals to support GLB rights. Oregon and Colorado became models of what was possible—for better and for worse.

The Supreme Court decision declaring Amendment 2 unconstitutional also had significant legal impacts that went beyond the case in question. For the first time in history, the nation’s top judicial authority had acknowledged and delimited antigay prejudice. Also, the majority decision in the case represented a new way of speaking about GLB people, one that regarded them as citizens worthy of respect and civil rights. These two shifts laid a foundation for judicial rulings very different from tradition. Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement] Colorado antigay intiatives Oregon;antigay intiatives Measure 9, Oregon[Measure 09] Amendment 2, Colorado[Amendment 02] Discrimination;Oregon Discrimination;Colorado Antigay movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haider-Markel, Donald P., and Kenneth J. Meier. “Legislative Victory, Electoral Uncertainty: Explaining Outcomes in the Battles over Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.” Review of Policy Research 20, no. 4 (2003): 671-690.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herman, Didi. The Antigay Agenda. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hunter, Nan D. “Proportional Equality: Readings of Romer.Kentucky Law Journal 89 (2001): 885-910.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobs, Andrew. “Romer Wasn’t Built in a Day: The Subtle Transformation on Judicial Argument over Gay Rights.” Wisconsin Law Review (1996): 893-969.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keen, Lisa, and Suzanne B. Goldberg. Strangers to the Law: Gay People on Trial. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murdoch, Joyce, and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, Glenda M. Voted Out: The Psychological Consequences of Anti-Gay Politics. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stein, Arlene. The Stranger Next Door. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

November 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

March-April, 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash

1994: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Is Proposed to U.S. Congress

December 4, 1995: Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon

March 21, 2003: New Mexico Amends Its Human Rights Act

June 26, 2003: U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Texas Sodomy Law

Categories: History Content