Last edited: December 05, 2004

Gays Joyful, Relieved Over Court Ruling

Associated Press, June 26, 2003

By Lisa Leff

SAN FRANCISCO—Gays exulted Thursday over the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Texas law banning gay sex acts. A conservative group warned the ruling could lead to gay marriage.

Gay-rights activists, who regarded the challenge to the anti-sodomy law as one of their most important legal cases in decades, said the high court’s ruling would go far toward guaranteeing equal rights for homosexuals.

“This decision is a historic, transformative decision,” said Ruth Harlow, who as legal director of Lambda Legal was the lead attorney in the case. “The court had the courage to reverse one of its gravest mistakes, and to replace that with a resounding statement of equality and liberty for all.”

The Supreme Court was criticized by civil rights groups 17 years ago when it upheld a Georgia law similar to Texas’. With its 6-3 decision Thursday, the court majority overturned the Texas anti-sodomy statute, and appeared to sweep away laws in a dozen other states that ban oral and anal sex for everyone, or for homosexuals in particular.

Reaction was especially strong in those states—Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia—where the ruling would have the most immediate impact.

“It could have been a historic day just for Texas, but it’s a historic day, period,” said Paul Scott, executive director of the Dallas-based John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Resource Center. “This is a great thing to get recognition that gays and lesbians have a viable place in society, that the court sees us as productive citizens and entitled to privacy.”

The president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, John Giles, agreed that personal privacy should be protected, but said he worries the decision will further a national campaign to legalize marriage between gays.

“God have mercy on America,” he said.

In Missouri, gay-rights activists who have spent years lobbying state lawmakers to repeal an anti-sodomy provision said it was great to have the Supreme Court finish the job for them.

“This is something that has been a black eye on our Supreme Court and our country and in Missouri for years,” said Jeff Wunrow, executive director of PROMO, a Missouri gay rights organization.

Mathew D. Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based religious rights group, predicted that cultural conservatives would not let the court’s decision stand unchallenged.

“The split decision underscores the importance of the next Supreme Court appointment, not only on the issue of abortion but now on the issue of same-sex unions,” he said. “Regulating homosexual conduct and marriage is the right of the people to be exercised through the legislative rather than judicial branches of government.”

Though seldom enforced by police, the Texas law and similar provisions in a dozen other states are sometimes invoked by judges to deny homosexuals legal custody of their children, equal employment guarantees and other civil rights.

“It absolutely signals an entirely changed landscape,” said Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “It’s impossible to be considered a full and equal citizen if you’re a criminal in 13 states.” She added that the decision marked “a cultural change as much as a legal change.”

The 6-3 decision came in a case brought by two men arrested in 1998. They were jailed overnight and ordered to pay $200 fines after police, responding to a false complaint of an armed intruder, discovered them having sex in their bedroom.

“We never chose to be public figures or to take on the spotlight. We also never thought we could be arrested this way,” said one of the men, John Lawrence, who as lead plaintiff lent his name to the case, Lawrence v. Texas. “We are glad this ruling not only lets us get on with our lives, but opens the door for all gay people to be treated equally.”

That the high court’s ruling came in June, the month traditionally reserved for gay pride celebrations across the country, made the victory all the more sweet, advocates said.

Gay advocacy groups from Alaska to Florida planned celebrations later in the day.

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