For two decades beginning in the 1990s Colorado Springs gained national attention from political actions taken by local members of the Christian evangelical community. The national culture wars often focused on topics of sexuality, particularly feminism, gay rights, and abortion. Colorado for Family Values, led by local car dealer Will Perkins, petitioned to place Amendment 2 in the state constitution to prohibit minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination for homosexuals. Their claim was that that gays shouldn’t get “special rights.” Put on the statewide ballot in 1992, the amendment was approved by 53% of Colorado voters on November 3. Taken aback, opponents of the amendment were shocked and reaction was swift. Opponents organized boycotts of the city, Perkins’ car dealership, and the entire state. Groups such as the U.S. conference of mayors cancelled conventions, cities issued travel bans to Colorado for their public employees, movie stars lent their names in protest, and businesses and nonprofits changed plans to relocate to the state.
Colorado gained the moniker “the Hate State,” while Colorado Springs was called the city of hate and bigotry. Boycotts made this amendment the most expensive civil rights violation in U.S. history. The Colorado Springs gay community responded by coming out of the closet in unprecedented numbers. The gay activist group Ground Zero formed to focus opposition and challenge stereotypes and misperceptions about gays and lesbians. Opposition in Colorado Springs led to the Citizen’s Project, an organization formed in 1993 to monitor conservative religious groups in the city, and the local weekly alternative newspaper, the Colorado Springs Independent, launched in 1993. In October, 1994, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 in a 6-1 decision. The decision was challenged by Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton and taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in May, 1996, it was struck down as a violation of the 14th Amendment: “A state cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 6-3 majority opinion. He said that singling out the state’s homosexuals “in a solitary class” was inexplicable on any basis other than “animus,” and that prejudice is not a valid justification for a policy that creates special burdens for one group not placed on others.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs