Last edited: November 28, 2004

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Sodomy Law

Reuters, June 26, 2004

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court struck down on Thursday sodomy laws that make it a crime for people of the same sex to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse,” a ruling that gives gay rights advocates a major victory.

By a 6-3 vote, the nation’s highest court in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled a Texas law violated constitutional privacy rights.

By a separate 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court also overturned its 1986 ruling that upheld a Georgia sodomy law and that declared that homosexuals have no constitutional right to engage in sodomy in private.

The 30-year-old Texas “homosexual conduct” law makes it a crime for same-sex couples to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse,” defined as oral and anal sex, even if it is consensual and occurs in the privacy of a person’s bedroom. Violators face a maximum punishment of a $500 fine.

The ruling will invalidate sodomy laws that exist in 13 states. Besides Texas, the other states are Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

The case involved John Geddes Lawrence and Tryon Garner. In 1998, police officers entered Lawrence’s apartment in Houston while investigating what turned out to be a false report of a disturbance with a gun. The officers found the two men engaged in anal sex.

Lawrence and Garner were arrested and charged with violating the Texas law. They pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charges and each were fined $200. The two men then challenged the law’s constitutionality.

Ruth Harlow, legal director of the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., which represents the two men, called it the most important gay rights case in a generation.

The Texas Court of Appeals upheld the law, ruling it “advances a legitimate state interest, namely preserving public morals.”

The Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision.

The court’s three most conservative members, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The ruling came down on the last day of the court’s 2002-2003 term.

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