The Argument Against the Recent Supreme Court Decision in Lawrence v. Texas Is
News, July 13, 2003
PO Box 20587, Tuscaloosa AL 35401-0587
By Lori Messinger
The argument against the recent Supreme Court decision in
Lawrence v. Texas is not new, it has just
been a while since we have heard it. The last time was in 1954, in response to
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
The cases may seem very distinct: Lawrence made
homosexual sodomy legal, while Brown outlawed racial segregation in public
education. Yet, their pivotal roles in civil rights movements, and the
strongly negative reactions against these decisions, have much in common.
John Lewis, Alabamian, civil rights activist and
representative from Georgia, wrote in his memoir that the Brown decision
“turned my world upside down ... . Everything was going to change now.”
Instead, he recalled, “What I saw were stories quoting state politicians
derisively referring to the day of that Supreme Court decision as Black
Monday.” Certainly the responses to Lawrence on cable news, Christian radio
stations and in local newspapers sound very much the same.
Southern politicians responded to the Brown decision with
a manifesto that claimed that the decision represented a clear abuse of
judicial power. The federal judiciary was encroaching on the rights of the
people. There was no right to education, they asserted; it had not been
mentioned in the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, nor any other amendment.
Worse yet, the decision went against the legal precedent established by the
Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which officially sanctioned
segregation as constitutional just a little more than 50 years earlier.
Clearly, these Southern gentlemen argued, there was not a
need for the federal judiciary to encroach on a states’ rights issue.
This is the same argument being offered by critics of
Lawrence. They argue that there is no constitutional right to private,
consensual sex acts between adults, free from the intrusion of the state. They
angrily point out that this decision goes against tradition, public sentiment
and legal precedent. It will change the face of law as we know it.
John Paul Jones, a law professor and constitutional
expert at the University of Richmond in Virginia, is quoted as saying about
the struggle against segregation, “It is significant that the change, when
it did come, mostly was a result of court action to enforce inalienable rights
enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, rather than as a result of measures passed
by popularly elected legislatures and executives.”
Without an independent judiciary and the Constitution’s
guarantees for minority rights, he added, the desegregation fight would have
been much more difficult. The fight for the recognition of the civil rights of
gay men and lesbians is no less dependent on these institutions, particularly
in the conservative Christian South.
Fifty years before the Brown decision, Justice Harlan
wrote in his dissent from Plessy v. Ferguson, “The destinies of the two
races in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interest of
both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of
race hate to be planted under the sanction of law.”
He foresaw that the decision would lead to violence and
injustice. And it did—in lynchings and murders, and discrimination in
housing, employment, education, marriage rights, and many other important
areas of African-American’s lives.
As a lesbian, a resident of Alabama and a citizen of the
United States, I claim the Lawrence decision as a watershed for the movement
to protect my rights. Sodomy laws have been the club that kept gay men and
lesbians unequal in the eyes of the law, harming us as we tried to rent
apartments, maintain our employment, retain custody of our children, maintain
the intimacy and sanctity of our loving relationships, adopt and foster
children in need of good homes, and protect ourselves from harassment, assault
The “homosexual agenda” that is so feared by the
critics of the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas is little more than
another struggle for the civil rights of an unpopular and oppressed group.
The Lawrence decision is a first step in removing the
seeds of hatred and bigotry that have been sewn into the society through the
letter of the law. I join Coretta Scott King, when she states, “Freedom from
discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right
in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or
ethnic discrimination ... . I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther
King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for
lesbian and gay people.”
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