Year
1996

Supreme Court defends rights of homosexuals

In a victory for the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, the U.S. Supreme Court votes six to three to strike down an amendment to Colorado’s state constitution that would have prevented any city, town, or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect the rights of homosexuals.

Colorado’s Amendment Two was passed in 1992 with a majority of the state’s citizens approving it in a special referendum. Four years later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Romer v. Evans, a case that allowed the nation’s highest court to scrutinize the constitutionality of the amendment. On May 20, 1996, in a ruling authored by Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Supreme Court struck down Amendment Two, arguing that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Although the ruling, authored by a Republican appointee, was cautious in its language, it was applauded as a major civil rights victory that gave gay and lesbian activists their first major constitutional precedence for fighting anti-gay legislation.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Spirit of St. Louis departs

At 7:52 a.m., American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, on the world’s first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. Lindbergh, a daring young airmail pilot, ...read more

Vasco da Gama reaches India

Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama becomes the first European to reach India via the Atlantic Ocean when he arrives at Calicut on the Malabar Coast. Da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, in July 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored at Malindi on the east coast of ...read more

The Homestead Act

In a milestone in the settlement of the American West, President Abraham Lincoln signs into law the Homestead Act, a program designed to grant public land to small farmers at low cost. The act gave 160 acres of land to any applicant who was the head of a household and 21 years or ...read more

Christopher Columbus dies

On May 20, 1506, the great Italian explorer Christopher Columbus dies in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America, and ...read more

Battle for Hamburger Hill ends

After 10 days and 10 bloody assaults, Hill 937 in South Vietnam is finally captured by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans who fought there cynically dubbed Hill 937 “Hamburger Hill” because the battle and its high casualty rate reminded them of a meat grinder. ...read more

Sunday Silence wins Preakness by a nose

On May 20, 1989, Sunday Silence edges by Easy Goer to win the closest race in the 114-year history of the Preakness Stakes by a nose. Sunday Silence had already beaten Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, putting the horse one victory away from winning the ...read more

Lincoln signs Homestead Act

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which opens government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave “any person” who was the head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be ...read more

Levi Strauss patents copper-riveted jeans

Acting at the behest of a Reno, Nevada, tailor who had invented the idea, Levi Strauss secures the necessary patents for canvas pants with copper rivets to reinforce the stress points. Born in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in 1829, the young Levi Strauss emigrated to the United States in ...read more

Frank Sinatra is laid to rest

Long before his stature in the world of show business earned him the nickname “Chairman of the Board,” Frank Sinatra was known simply as “The Voice.” During a career that saw him go from skinny teen idol to middle-aged playboy, Sinatra’s personality and looks were certainly major ...read more

W.H. Auden becomes a U.S. citizen

English poet W.H. Auden becomes an American citizen on this day in 1946. Auden, who was born in 1907 in England, had his first poem published in a collection called Public School Verse when he was 17. He entered Oxford the following year and befriended several men who became ...read more

The Simpsons airs 400th episode

On this day in 2007, Fox’s long-running animated series The Simpsons airs its 400th episode. The Simpsons was created by Matt Groenig, whose comic strip Life Is Hell caught the attention of the Hollywood producer James L. Brooks. Brooks enlisted Groenig to create a cartoon short ...read more

Plane crashes at Cairo airport

A Pakistan Airways Boeing 707 arriving from Pakistan crashes upon landing at the airport in Cairo, Egypt, killing 124 people on this day in 1965. The accident came just as pilots were complaining about poor conditions at the Cairo airport. In 1965, the International Pilots ...read more

Mary Kay Letourneau marries former victim

On this day in 2005, ex-teacher and convicted pedophile Mary Kay Letourneau, 43, marries her former victim and the father of two of her children, Vili Fualaau, 22. Just nine months earlier, Letourneau had been released from prison after serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence ...read more