Colo. to defend ban on gay-rights laws in court

DENVER — DENVER -- A challenge to the constitutionality of a Colorado measure forbidding legal protection for homosexuals begins today in a state district court here.

The measure, which put this state at the center of a national debate over gay rights laws, has never been put into effect. Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless, who issued an injunction in January preventing the law's enforcement, will preside over the trial.


In ordering the injunction, Judge Bayless said: "There is a fundamental right here, and it is the right not to have the state endorse and give effect to private biases."

In July, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to lift the injunction on the law, saying it would probably find the measure unconstitutional because it would deprive a single group, homosexuals, of political rights enjoyed by others.


The measure, which was passed by 53 percent of Colorado's voters in November, would invalidate gay rights laws in Denver, Boulder and Aspen, and would forbid the passage of such state or local laws. The suit against the measure has been filed by those three cities, joined by several Colorado homosexuals, including the tennis star Martina Navratilova.

The measure led to a boycott of the state, which organizers said had cost the state nearly $40 million in cancellations of conventions booked through the year 2000. That represents only 1 percent of the state's convention business, said Rich Grant, a spokesman for the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Advocates for gay rights say efforts are under way in 14 states to put a measure similar to Colorado's on the ballot this year. The measure, a ballot initiative known as Amendment 2, was soundly defeated in Denver, Boulder and Aspen, but passed in rural and suburban regions, and in Colorado Springs.

Jean Dubofsky, a former state Supreme Court justice and lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said she would contend that Amendment 2 violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and served no "compelling state interest," which the Colorado Supreme Court said the state would be required to prove.

The state's attorney general, Gale Norton, has said she will argue that the "compelling state interest" is "family values" and that gay rights laws dilute civil rights measures for minorities. Amendment 2 was sponsored by Colorado for Family Values, a conservative group. Its leader, Will Perkins, says the measure is intended to stop the increase of classes protected by civil rights laws.