Last edited: January 01, 2005

Supreme Court Hears Landmark Gay Sex Case This Week Newscenter, March 23, 2003

By Paul Johnson

Washington, D.C.—The Supreme Court will be asked Wednesday to strike down laws against gay sex.  The Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case of two Texas men who were charged in 1998 for having sex in the home of one of the men.

Sheriff’s deputies, responding to a false report of an armed intruder, entered John Lawrence’s Houston apartment and found Lawrence and Tyrone Garner having sex.

Both were arrested and jailed overnight. The men pleaded no contest to the charges and paid a $200 fine.

The Texas sodomy law under which they were charged bans oral and anal sex between consenting adults of the same sex. It does not apply to heterosexual couples.

“This is a tremendously important case for gay people and for everyone who believes in basic freedoms,” says Ruth Harlow, Legal Director, Lambda Legal.

The gay rights group is representing Lawrence and Garner before the high court.

“Laws that criminalize oral and anal sex by consenting gay couples are an affront to equality, invade the most private sphere of adult life, and harm gay people in many ways,” said Harlow.

Lambda will argue that the arrest of Lawrence and Garner violated their Constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection. The organization will also tell the court that the Texas law constitutes an invasion of privacy

The state of Texas is expected to argue that society has the right to declare certain behavior immoral and that courts have long recognized legal differences between heterosexuals and gays in areas such as marriage law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of a number of groups which have filed ‘friend of the court briefs’ supporting Lambda Legal said: “Laws like these are repellent to the most basic principles of freedom established in the U.S. Constitution. We hope the Justices use this case to strike them down.”  

Three other states—Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas—plus Puerto Rico have laws similar to the Texas statute, 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.

If the court strikes down the Texas law the ruling would apply to other states as well.

In 1986, the Supreme Court declared there was no fundamental constitutional right to homosexual sodomy in a Georgia case known as Bowers vs. Hardwick. In a 5-4 decision the court rejected the argument that the right to privacy shielded adult gays from government interference in their sex lives. 

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