The United States Supreme Court this week ruled that a state cannot bar homosexuals from seeking legislative remedies for discrimination. The ruling demands calm scrutiny, not emotional reaction.
Even some legal scholars who argued for this outcome point out that the court has not invalidated all governmental action in this area. While important, the ruling is not the last word. Gay rights will continue to be debated on many fronts.
The Colorado law in question, which was enacted by citizen referendum, rolled back municipal ordinances prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in housing and employment and blocked any more such ordinances.
The court's six-member majority, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, found this law at odds with the "rights of persons" guaranteed by the Constitution. In effect, they said, it created a class of citizens who couldn't seek legislative recourse like other Americans.
Justice Kennedy's reasoning underscores an important principle and should be understood as protecting a right common to all citizens - not as endorsing a specific lifestyle. He also argued that the Colorado law failed to justify targeting a specific class of people. That, presumably, leaves the door open for legislation - regarding gays in the military, for instance - that some official or group feels is clearly tied to a legitimate public or governmental end.
Those who pushed for the Colorado referendum, and for similar laws elsewhere in the US, have no doubts about the legitimacy of their effort: to preserve society's traditional moral values and sexual mores.
Today, that goal collides with a newly assertive, politically active minority. The court can't resolve that great values clash; it has only said that it can't result in discriminatory treatment.