Court Won't Hear Gay Rights Case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand a Cincinnati city charter amendment that denies discrimination protection to homosexuals. Two years ago, the high court struck down as unconstitutional a similar measure in Colorado.

The justices turned away a gay rights group's argument that the voter-approved 1993 amendment violates homosexuals' equal protection rights, just as the Colorado amendment did.

Tuesday's action, however, is not a decision and sets no national precedent.

In his brief opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens emphasized that the ruling did not in any way reflect the subject matter of the legal action, gay rights. He wrote that the "the confusion over the proper construction of the city charter counsels against granting [review]." His opinion was joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Three justices went a step further, taking the unusual step of emphasizing that the court's action "should not be interpreted either as an independent construction of the charter or as an expression of its views about the underlying issues that the parties have debated at length."

The nation's highest court provided a dramatic victory for gay rights advocates in 1996 when it threw out a Colorado state constitutional amendment that forbade state and local laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

The amendment unlawfully singled out gays and sought to "make them unequal to everyone else," the court ruled then.

The Cincinnati amendment bans any city ordinance or policy that provides gays "any claim of minority or protected status, quota preference or other preferential treatment."

Alphonse Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati lawyer who represented the gay rights advocates who lost Tuesday, said he was stunned by the Supreme Court's action. "I am incredibly disappointed and shocked that the Supreme Court wouldn't fix this problem," Gerhardstein said. "The Supreme Court has given up. That's horrible."

In other actions taken Tuesday, the court:

  • Rejected the appeal of Florida death row inmate William D. Elledgem, who has spent 23 years on death row. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a strongly word dissent, saying long delays in executing condemned killers on state prison death rows might amount to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Breyer wrote that Elledge's claim "is a serious one."

  • Agreed to use a Florida case to clarify the federal crimes of bank, wire, and mail fraud. The court said it will hear an appeal by a Florida man convicted of those crimes in connection with land purchase and development deals.

By Laurie Asseo