Hopeful That Supreme Court Will Strike Down Discriminatory Sodomy Laws
Commends Lambda Legal for Leadership on Case
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
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sodomy laws as outdated.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
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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