THE passage of an anti-homosexual-rights measure in Colorado has triggered a firestorm of controversy that extends far beyond the borders of this Rocky Mountain state.
Last month, the state's voters approved - by 53 to 47 percent - Amendment 2, which repeals gay-rights laws in Denver, Boulder, and Aspen. The measure also bars the state or any municipality from enacting similar gay-rights legislation. Comparable anti-gay-rights initiatives were narrowly defeated in Oregon and Portland, Maine, but passed in Tampa, Fla.
Within hours of the balloting, angry gay activists demonstrated in the streets here and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the amendment. Before long, liberal and gay-rights activists tried to back up their opposition by calling for a boycott of the state.
Terry Schleder, a Denver advertising saleswoman, announced the formation of a group called Boycott Colorado. "We have called for a global boycott. Don't come here for recreation. Don't come here for business," she says. "The governor and the people need to realize that basic civil rights are fundamental. Creating change through a boycott is only one means of demonstrating the power of the people."
So far, convention cancellations tied to Amendment 2 have cost Denver more than $6 million, says Rich Grant of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. The boycott recalls a similar attempt to punish Arizona after that state's voters defeated a proposal to create a Martin Luther King Day holiday in 1990.
Colorado for Family Values (CFV), a Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group that backed Amendment 2, denounces the strong reaction from pro-gay-rights groups. Kevin Tebedo, a CFV spokesman, calls boycott leaders "crybabies." He says it is gay-rights supporters, not his group members, that are "fanning the flames of hatred."
Mr. Tebedo adds that his group is receiving calls from across the nation seeking information about how to pass initiatives similar to Amendment 2.
Among those who have boycotted Colorado so far is the Atlanta City Council, which unanimously voted to ban city travel to the state. Moving in the same direction, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors instructed attorneys to put together a package of orders that would not only ban employees from traveling to Colorado on business, but would also prohibit the city from purchasing Colorado-made products.
In late November, the National Council for Social Studies also canceled plans to hold its 1994 meeting in Denver - a loss of $4 million to the city, says Mr. Grant of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. He adds that the American Law Library Association also canceled a Denver convention.
The passage of Amendment 2 has caught some state leaders in a quandry: while they oppose the measure, they do not want to be seen as condoning a boycott of their state. Gov. Roy Romer (D), for example, is expected to continue in his role as the state's primary pitchman, despite his personal opposition to Amendment 2.
The Rev. Gil Horn, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, also said he was adamantly opposed to the amendment, but at the same time opposed the boycott. "We do not favor a boycott because this is a good opportunity to educate people," he said.
Jet-setters - many of whom flock to Colorado's famous ski slopes in the wintertime - have been equally ambivalent in their response to Amendment 2.
Singer Barbra Streisand, an outspoken liberal, at first called on fellow entertainers to boycott the state. But she later rescinded the call.
Tennis star Chris Evert and her husband, former Olympic skier Andy Mill, joined other Aspen residents in criticizing boycott efforts. They appealed to the nation not to stop coming to Aspen, which enacted a gay-rights law in 1977, the first Colorado city to do so.
The conflict over Amendment 2 could take months, even years, to resolve, according to most observers.
And with President-elect Clinton promising to lift the long-standing ban on homosexuals in the military, the debate over gay rights promises to grow in the ensuing months - in Colorado and the rest of the nation.