Last edited: January 24, 2005

HRC Hopeful That Supreme Court Will Strike Down Discriminatory Sodomy Laws

Commends Lambda Legal for Leadership on Case

Human Rights Campaign, March 24, 2003
Contact: David M. Smith  Contact: Mark Shields
Phone: (202) 216-1547    Phone: (202) 216-1564
Cell: (202) 251-1447       Cell: (202) 258-3667

WASHINGTON—The Human Rights Campaign expressed hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down unjust and discriminatory sodomy laws after hearing arguments tomorrow in Lawrence v. Texas. The case, brought by Lambda Legal, challenges the constitutionality of state sodomy laws, which are frequently used as a tool for discriminating against the gay and lesbian community.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will have the wisdom to see these laws for what they are—mechanisms used to justify discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans,” said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. “These laws have been used to deny gay men and lesbians jobs, refuse gay and lesbian parents custody of their own children, and for blocking non-discrimination laws and hate crime legislation.”

John Lawrence and Tyron Garner pleaded no contest to breaking the Texas sodomy law in 1998, when police broke into Lawrence’s home in search of an armed intruder and discovered the two men engaged in intercourse. Both men were arrested and then imprisoned overnight. They were fined $200 each and had to pay court costs. The convictions bar both men from holding several types of jobs in Texas. If they move to other states, they could be required to register as sex offenders. Lambda Legal asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and declare a violation of privacy and equal protection.

HRC signed onto a “friend of the court”, or amicus, brief written by the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, LLP that summarizes the direct and ancillary harms caused by sodomy laws. The brief describes the sodomy laws as outdated. It provides strong evidence that gays and lesbians are law-abiding, productive citizens who are healthy partners, good parents, patriotic veterans and sometimes heroic citizens. A variety of other civil rights organizations, religious groups, public health experts, historians and others have also either signed or filed briefs of their own in favor of repealing sodomy laws.

“These laws unfairly brand lesbian and gay people as criminal sexual deviants, and burden them with legal stigmas like ‘sex offender.’ These laws are clearly discriminatory. By striking them down the Supreme Court could put an end to a tremendous and very real legal hardship on this country’s gay and lesbian community,” said HRC Senior Counsel Liz Seaton.

In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws 5-4 in Bowers v. Hardwick. Since the ruling, much has changed. Only three justices from that ruling remain on the bench. And the Georgia sodomy law, which was at issue in Hardwick, was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 1998.

In 1996, today’s Supreme Court struck down an anti-gay amendment to the Colorado Constitution on equal protection principles. Additionally, since Bowers v. Hardwick, the number of state sodomy laws has declined from 28 to 13, in large part because of the persistent court efforts of Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as state organizations fighting to overturn these laws.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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