Supreme Court Overturns Sodomy Laws

Thu. June 26, 2003 12:00 AM by

Historic Day for Gay Rights

Washington, D.C. - The Supreme Court Thursday struck down laws outlawing sodomy. In a 6 - 3 decision, the court said that states cannot make laws regarding the private sexual conduct of Americans.

The ruling said the Texas law violates the Due Process clause of the Constitution. Writing for the majority Justice Anthony M. Kennedy called the ban on gay sex an "unconstitutional violation of privacy."

"[It} demeans the lives of homosexual persons," Kennedy wrote.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer agreed with Kennedy in full. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with the outcome of the case but not all of Kennedy's rationale.

"Its an historic day for all gay Americans" said Ruth Harlow, a lawyer for Lambda legal which argued the case on behalf of the two Texas men. (Related Item: Chicago's GLBT Community Celebrates Supreme Court Decision)

The ruling negates not only the sodomy law in Texas, but those in a dozen other states. Three states -- Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas which have laws targeting only gays. Another nine states -- Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia -- have sodomy laws that apply to all adults, gay or straight.

The case involve two Houston men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. They pleaded no contest to breaking the sodomy law in 1998, after police broke into Lawrence's home in search of an armed intruder and discovered the two men engaged in intercourse.

No intruder was found and police later said the tip there was an intruder came from an anonymous source.

Both men were arrested under the Texas sodomy statute and imprisoned overnight. Following their conviction they were fined $200 each and ordered to pay court costs.

The convictions bar both men from holding several types of jobs in Texas. If they move to other states, they could be required to register as sex offenders.

The men "are entitled to respect for their private lives," Justice Kennedy wrote in his decision.

"The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime," he said.

Today's ruling reverses Bowers v. Hardwick where the Supreme Court 17 years ago ruled 5 - 4 that a Georgia statute criminalizing consensual sodomy was constitutional.

by Paul Johnson Newscenter
Washington Bureau Chief
©® 2003

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