This anti-LGBTQ ordinance violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution prohibits a state from banning LGBTQ people from seeking “specific legal protection from injuries caused by discrimination.”
The facts of Romer v. Evans are as follows: after various cities and counties in Colorado enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the State of Colorado, through a ballot initiative, amended its state constitution to “prohibit all legislative, executive or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians.” As the Supreme Court explained, under the amendment, “Homosexuals, by state decree, are put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres. The amendment withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination, and it forbids reinstatement of these laws and policies.”
The Supreme Court declared that the Colorado constitutional amendment was based upon animosity toward homosexual people and lacked a rational relation to any legitimate governmental purpose. Accordingly, the Court determined that Colorado’s constitutional amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment.
Like the Colorado constitutional amendment that the Supreme Court invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance attempts to prohibit local government action “designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians” [i.e., protects people based on “sexual orientation.”] and like the Colorado constitutional amendment invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance “withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination.”
Accordingly, Romer v. Evans renders Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional.
Moreover, not only is Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional, it also clearly contradicts and is superseded by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against people based on “sexual orientation.”
Because state law supersedes any city law or local ordinance, the Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation anywhere in California means that Irvine lacks the power to declare that “the City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that: Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.”
Irvine anti-LBGTQ initiative was one of several ballot measures across the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s not only to seek to repeal existing anti-discrimination ordinances, but to proactively prohibit any local unit of government from ever passing such ordinances in the future.
Hence, the Irvine anti-LGBTQ ordinance includes provisions that purport to make it extremely difficult for a future Irvine City Council to repeal it. According to the ordinance, “Any law or ordinance pertaining to Section 3-5-503 may only be enacted by obtaining the approval of a majority of the voters of the City of Irvine voting on the measure at a regular or special election. Such a measure may only be placed on the ballot by citizen’s initiative or a two-thirds majority vote by the City Council.” [Sec. 3-5-502.].
The Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans made clear that it is an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause to single out LGBTQ people for special burdens. including burdening them with special difficulties in enacting anti-discriminatory laws. According, it is clear that the procedural provisions of Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance — requiring a 2/3 vote of the Council and then a ballot initiative for repeal — is again a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments because it is designed to make passage of protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation especially burdensome and difficult.
The California Legislature dealt with this very issue in its repeal of the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 by Senate Bill 396 (2014) by a majority vote of the Legislature without a vote of the entire electorate.
As the Judicial Committee of the California Senate noted, “Under existing law, California’s Constitution only authorizes the Legislature to amend or repeal initiative statutes by way of another statute that becomes effective only when approved by the electors –unless the initiative statute permits amendment or repeal without their approval. (Cal. Const., art. II, Sec. 10, subd. (c).) This bill [SB 396] seeks to repeal several state statutes implemented upon voter approval of Proposition 187, which generally prohibited the provision of various benefits to undocumented aliens. That proposition did not authorize the Legislature to amend or repeal its provisions without voter approval.”
Nevertheless, the Judicial Committee found that the Legislature had authority to repeal the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 without a vote of the entire electorate. It reasoned that because the bill did not modify or repeal any provisions of Prop 187 except those that are unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, it did not make any change in existing law. Accordingly, “SB 396 would not impermissibly repeal or amend the initiative; rather, it would merely update California statutes to accurately reflect current law.” The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate with only a single No vote.
The same circumstances exist here.
Like the parts of Prop 187 repealed by a simple majority vote of the Legislature in 2014, the anti-LGBTQ ordinance is unconstitutional and enforceable. Like the unconstitutional parts of Prop 187, although Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance is unconstitutional and unenforceable, its language remains on the books. Keeping this discriminatory language on the books, “causes confusion and harmful outcomes . . . [Therefore], it is fitting that [we] expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language] by removing its stain from the state’s statutes.”
That is what our City Council needs to do now, and what the precedent of SB 396 gives us clear authority to do: “expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language of Sec. 3-5.501-503] by removing its stain from the [City’s Code.]”
In addition to being unconstitutional and in violation of superseding state laws, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance is a cruel and embarrassing relic of a more prejudiced time.
Does Irvine want to remain on record as being one of the very few cities in America, and indeed the world, that still officially discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation? I hope not.
For all of these reasons, I will move to repeal Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance.
As noted above, Councilmember Farrah Khan has agreed to join me in putting this item on the next Council agenda for Tues., July 14, 2020, and in supporting this motion.
If you agree with us, please tell Mayor Christina Shea and the rest of the Irvine City Council that Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance [Sec. 3-5-501 through 503] needs to be repealed NOW.
Contact the Mayor and the Irvine City Council by email here.