Last edited: November 09, 2003

American Friends Service Committee Hails U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Texas Sodomy Law Case

Says Landmark Ruling Upholds Right to Privacy for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People, Falls Short of Guaranteeing Equal Protection Under Law

The American Friends Service Committee, June 26, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Janis D. Shields, Director Media and Public Relations (215) 241-7060
John W. Haigis, Media Assistant, (215) 241-7056

PHILADELPHIA, PA—The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) today hailed the landmark June 26, 2003, decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence and Garner v. Texas as an historic step forward in the struggle for legal equality for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGBT) people. The ruling strikes down the Texas Homosexual Conduct Act, which criminalizes private sexual behavior between consenting adults who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Texas does not criminalize private sexual behavior between consenting heterosexual adults. The ruling also overturns sodomy laws in other states and the Court’s 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision. State sodomy laws and the Bowers decision have often been used to justify discrimination against gay and bisexual people in many areas, including employment, child custody and visitation, and public accommodations.

“This historic ruling affirms the privacy rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and removes the stigma of criminalization that these laws have unjustly created,” stated Mary Ellen McNish, AFSC general secretary. “We regard this as a victory in the struggle for justice, not only for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, but for all people. At a time when we are witnessing rapid erosion of basic constitutional rights, political assaults on the legal framework of civil rights, and intrusive use of law enforcement authority in this country, this ruling is particularly welcome.”

However, the AFSC is disappointed that the Court stopped short of affirming the bedrock principle of equal protection under law, although the decision states that, “Equality of treatment and the due process right to demand respect for conduct protected by the substantive guarantee of liberty are linked in important respects, and a decision on the latter part advances both interests.” McNish said, “In matters of civil law, there should be a single standard of justice applied equitably to all.”

With twenty-eight other religious organizations, including the Alliance of Baptists, the American Jewish Committee, the Interfaith Alliance, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and the Al-Fatiha Foundation, AFSC joined an amicus curia (friend of the court) brief supporting the challenge to the Texas law.

“While all of the religious organizations joining the amicus brief do not share the same view concerning the religious and moral propriety of sexual intimacy between same-sex partners, we are unanimous in our belief that private, consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults should not be punished as a crime,” said McNish. “As our amicus brief suggests, where conduct involves no harm or violence to others—no act of abuse, assault, coercion, exploitation, or public indecency—governments should not attempt to legislate codes of private morality. That is a matter for individuals, families, and faith communities to decide. Ours is a nation of great religious diversity, and in civil society, no one faith tradition can or should speak for all in this regard.”

She emphasized that AFSC has supported the struggle for rights and recognition for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people for almost forty years. “We stand with LGBT communities against any attack on the civil or human rights of people because of their sexuality or gender identity. Such attacks are contrary to our own experience of God, which we understand to be the life-giving and compassionate presence of love and justice for all.”

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

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