The U.S. Const. amend. XIV's promise that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws must coexist with the practical necessity that most legislation classifies for one purpose or another, with resulting disadvantage to various groups or persons. Courts attempt to reconcile the principle with the reality by stating that, if a law neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class, courts will uphold the legislative classification so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.
In Colorado, various ordinances were issued, affording protection to persons discriminated against by reason of sexual orientation. To counter these ordinances, voters passed what was known as Amendment 2 in a statewide referendum in Colorado. Amendment 2 prohibited all legislative, executive, or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect homosexual persons. Homosexual persons and certain municipalities who had issued the ordinances commenced litigation to declare Amendment 2 invalid and enjoin its enforcement. The trial court's granted a preliminary injunction, finding that the Amendment failed to satisfy strict scrutiny. The State Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed. It held that Amendment 2 was subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it infringed the fundamental right of gays and lesbians to participate in the political process.
Was the Colorado Amendment 2 violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Colorado amendment was invalid as violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it put homosexuals in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres, and withdrew from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination and forbade reinstatement of these laws and policies. According to the Court, even if homosexuals could find some safe harbor in antidiscrimination laws of general application, the Colorado amendment's prohibition on specific legal protections did not merely deprive homosexuals of special rights, but rather imposed a special disability upon those persons alone. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the Colorado amendment did not bear a rational relationship to any legitimate governmental purpose, such as the state's interests in respect for other citizens' freedom of association, and conserving resources to fight discrimination against other groups.