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GAY-RIGHTS VERDICT ADDS FUEL TO DEBATE

For a state that has battled over an anti-gay-rights amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the measure served only to deepen divisions and keep the debate raging.

In the coffee shops and businesses of this Denver suburb, the arguments continued, as they have everywhere in Colorado for the past four years."It made me realize how much hatred there is out there, and bigotry," said artist Jacqueline Wolber.

Chip Bosman, a sewage company supervisor, had a different view, comparing the high court to a "dictatorship."

"The Supreme Court stick their noses into too many things," he said.

Colorado constitutional Amendment 2, approved in 1992, banned laws that protect gays from discrimination. But it was never enforced because it was immediately challenged in court by gay men and women as well as three cities that had enacted gay rights ordinances.

In a 6-3 vote Monday, the nation's high court ruled the measure would deny gays constitutional protection and make them "unequal to everyone else."

"Amendment 2 embarrassed me," said Richard Wolber, a 59-year-old Lakewood lawyer. "It was a vicious, cruel act passed . . . to get at gays."

Others said they had nothing against homosexuality but felt gays didn't deserve special rights.

"My son is chemically imbalanced, perceptually handicapped, and he should have the same rights as the lesbians and everybody else," Toula Theos said.

"When I voted for Amendment 2, I voted for equal rights, not less, not more," she said. "That's the way I understood it. If they can overturn our vote, then I'm not going to vote anymore."

In the college town of Boulder, the decision had special meaning because the measure would have struck down an existing ordinance here that affirmed civil rights for gays and lesbians.

Matu Eagle embraced her partner, Holly Hutchinson, at a rally celebrating the decision.

"It's wonderful. It's a big relief," Eagle said. "I feel more protected as far as having a place to live life decently."

The Supreme Court's ruling Monday will likely force a new critical look at anti-gay initiatives across the country.

In particular, the high court justices could order a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling reinstating a Cincinnati law that reads much like the Colorado measure.

The ruling also is expected to affect an anti-gay-rights amendment adopted by a Florida county, according to Suzanne Goldberg of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Goldberg said she expects the ruling, a dramatic victory for gay rights, to "put a significant dent" in efforts to enact other anti-homosexual legislation. Petition signatures are being gathered in Oregon and Idaho for state initiatives that would restrict homosexual-rights legislation.

But groups opposing gay rights said they will not give up.

"We'll stop at nothing. We'll redouble our efforts at the grass roots," said Jim Woodall, head of Concerned Women for America.

Homosexuality is not the issue, he said, adding, "We're willing to tolerate their behavior. Who they want to sleep with is their business. But that does not give them special protected status under the law."

Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, said "American citizens should be outraged" by the decision. He said it "demeans and insults adherents of the traditional Western understanding regarding homosexuality."

Canady said his subcommittee would hold hearings on the ruling.