Last edited: January 03, 2005

Episcopalians Join in Legal Challenge to Texas Sodomy Law

ENS, March 7, 2003
2003-052, News Briefs

The Episcopal Church has joined 20 other religious groups in supporting a challenge to the constitutionality of the state of Texas’s “homosexual conduct” or “sodomy” law, which criminalizes sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case this spring.

So-called “sodomy” laws are frequently invoked to deny employment or housing to gay men or lesbians and by courts in refusing custody or visitation for gay or lesbian parents.

“The Episcopal Church has long adhered to its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and has articulated this position in a series of resolutions adopted by its General Convention,” the brief stated.

The church joined an array of organizations, including conservative groups, civil rights organizations, and health professionals, in filing the amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief on behalf of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. Lawrence and Garner were arrested in Lawrence’s Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false report found the men engaged in private, consensual sex. Once convicted of violating the law, they were forced to pay fines and are now considered sex offenders in several states.

“The religious traditions of some amici recognize the morality of consensual sexual intimacy between members of the same sex or hold that such conduct is not intrinsically immoral,” the brief concluded. “The religious traditions of other amici teach that same-sex sexual conduct is to be discouraged by the family and faith community. Despite these differences, the amici are unanimous in the belief that criminalizing the private behavior of a particular minority, as Texas’ Homosexual Conduct law does, intrudes upon individual liberty and violates the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.”

In addition to Texas, three states—Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma—still have consensual sodomy laws that apply only to gay people. Nine states—Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah—and Puerto Rico still have consensual sodomy laws that apply to straight and gay adults, but are invoked almost exclusively against lesbians and gay men. These laws typically carry penalties that range from fines to 10 years in prison.

The court’s decision, which may impact the nation’s remaining sodomy laws, is expected by summer 2003.

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