DENVER -- A Denver district judge ruled yesterday that a ballot issue passed by Colorado voters banning gay rights laws violates the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
In light of the ruling, groups that had been calling for a boycott of Colorado said they were suspending their campaign, which had cost the state about $38 million in lost convention business.
Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton said the state would appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, but the court LTC has already indicated that it would almost certainly strike down the measure, which was passed by voters a year ago.
The referendum, known as Amendment 2, which was never enforced, would have repealed laws in Denver, Boulder and Aspen prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in jobs and housing, and it would have forbidden the passage of any such law in the state.
"It's clear that nothing is going to happen in Colorado to save Amendment 2," said Gene Nichol, the dean of the University of Colorado law school. "For all practical purposes, it's now going to be up to the U.S. Supreme Court."
The state Supreme Court ruled in July that Amendment 2 could pass constitutional muster only if it proved a "compelling state interest." Attorney General Norton said the state's desire to promote "family values" provided such a compelling interest.
But in striking down the measure yesterday, Judge Jeffrey Bayless rejected that argument and ruled that the measure violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. "If one wished to promote family values," he wrote, "action would be taken that is pro-family rather than anti- some other group."
The ruling was the third defeat in court for Amendment 2. In January, two months after the measure was passed by the voters, Judge Bayless blocked its enforcement with a temporary injunction, which was upheld by the state Supreme Court.
The ruling yesterday follows a nine-day court hearing in October on the constitutional merits.
Homosexuals in Colorado expressed relief yesterday after the ruling was issued. "Finally, after one year, the cloud has been cleared," said Bob Schlaff, publisher of Quest, a gay magazine in Denver. "Colorado has come to its senses."
Groups that advocate equal rights around the country said the ruling should serve as a warning to other states that might be considering Colorado-style referendums.
Supporters of the Colorado ballot issue expressed frustration that a measure passed by a majority of voters could be rejected in court. Will Perkins, who heads Colorado for Family Values, a conservative group, said yesterday that his group would continue to work to put the measure into law.
New York Boycott Colorado, a group that had called for tourists to shun the state, announced that it was suspending its campaign. "We have won this battle, and we're not going to continue to fight it," said Duncan Osborne, a spokesman for the group.
Colorado tourism officials, who said the boycott had cost the state only about 1 percent of its convention business, also hailed the ruling.
A lawsuit challenging the amendment was filed by Denver, Boulder and Aspen, along with several homosexuals who live in Colorado, including the tennis star Martina Navratilova.