Jews generally back pro-gay rights bill

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Colorado citizens voted in 1992 to single out homosexuals and deny them civil rights protections as a group, alarm bells sounded for many American Jews.

Then on Monday, when the Supreme Court overturned the voter-initiated amendment to the Colorado Constitution, these same Jews gave out a sigh of relief.

Throughout history, they re-membered, Jews have often been the ones singled out for different treatment.

"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," commented Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress' legal department.

In a 6-3 decision, the court overturned the Colorado amendment, saying it 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 had signed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the lawsuit challenging the measure.

Those groups included the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League

AJCommittee legal director Samuel Rabinove hailed the decision.

He said that the decision was important because it upheld the principle 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 the right-wing religious Agudath Israel party.

He expressed concern that the decision could be interpreted as a governmental endorsement of homosexuality, which Orthodox Judaism prohibits.

Other 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.