When Colorado citizens voted in 1992 to single out homosexuals and deny them civil rights protections as a group, alarm bells went off for many American Jews.
Throughout history, they remembered, Jews have been the ones singled out for different treatment.
When the Supreme Court on Monday overturned the voter-initiated amendment to the Colorado Constitution, cheers went out form these same American Jews.
“Heavy handed unequal restraint of access to the political process by targeting a specific group of people resonates in a particularly sensitive way for Jews,” said Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress’ legal department.
The court, in a 6-3 decision, overturned the Colorado amendment, saying that kit violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
Colorado voters passed the measure by a narrow margin in 1992, barring anti- discrimination laws designed to protect homosexuals.
“A state cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
Many Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Religious Action center of Reform Judaism and the Anti- Defamation League had signed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the lawsuit challenging the measure.
Samuel Rabinove, legal director of the AJCommittee, hailed the decision for upholding that “fundamental rights cannot be abrogated by majority vote.”
Not all Jews, however, were pleased.
“We wish the case would have come down the other way,” said David Zwiebel, general counsel and director of government affairs for Agudath Israel.
He expressed concern that the decision could be interpreted as a governmental endorsement of homosexuality, which Orthodox Judaism prohibits.
Outer Orthodox Jewish groups remained on the sidelines during the debate.
“We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, but cannot endorse anything that could be interpreted as endorsing homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle,” said Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.