US Court Lifts Ban on Gay Sex in Texas
Guardian, June 26, 2003
By David Teather in New York
The US supreme court yesterday overturned a Texan law
banning sodomy between two men, in a landmark decision that gay rights
advocates claimed was a “turning point” in American attitudes toward
The six-to-three verdict carries profound implications
for gay rights in the US, effectively revoking anti-sodomy laws that exist in
13 states. Legal experts said the ruling also carries wider implications for
the right to privacy.
The law in Texas allowed sodomy between a man and a woman
but had made it a crime for two men to engage in what it described as
“deviant sexual intercourse”. A similar distinction is made in Kansas,
Oklahoma and Missouri.
Ruth Harlow, legal director of the Lambda Legal Defence
and Education Fund, which brought the appeal on behalf of two Houston men,
described the decision as “courageous”. She said the court was catching up
with attitudes in the rest of American society.
“This is a historic day for gay Americans, and all
Americans who believe in basic liberty.
“The court has said that all of us as adults have the
liberty to choose who we love and how we express love for one another in our
The case stemmed from the prosecution of two men, John
Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were briefly jailed and fined $200 in
1998 after police found them having sex in their own apartment. The police had
entered their home on a false report that a man with a gun was “going
The ruling reverses a supreme court verdict 17 years ago,
which upheld a case in Georgia and gave states the ability to punish
homosexual behaviour, becoming a touchstone for gay activists. In a separate
vote, that ruling was also overturned.
In yesterday’s verdict, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote
that the state cannot “demean the lives of homosexual persons” and said
the law violated the constitutional right to privacy. He wrote that gay people
have “the full right to engage in their conduct without the intervention of
The case has pitted liberals and gay rights advocates
against religious and conservative groups in the US.
The reverend Rob Schenck, president of the national
clergy council, described the court’s decision as a “lamentable
outcome”. He said: “The fact is that homosexual behaviour is immoral and
it is wrong. The court has said today that morality, that matters of right and
wrong, do not matter in the law.”
Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O’Connor supported Mr Kennedy in the
verdict. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and
Clarence Thomas dissented.
Justice Scalia said the court had “signed on to the
so-called homosexual agenda”.
In comments ahead of the judgment, the republican senator
Rick Santorum had stirred controversy when he said that if sodomy were
legalised “then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to
polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery, you
have the right to anything”.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday dodged
questions on the president’s view of the verdict.
Of the 13 states with sodomy laws, four—Texas, Kansas,
Oklahoma and Missouri—prohibit oral and anal sex between same-sex couples.
The other nine ban consensual sodomy for everyone: Alabama, Florida, Idaho,
Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Yesterday’s ruling apparently invalidates all of those
laws as well as the legislation in Texas. The state had defended the law by
claiming that it was protecting marriage and child-rearing.
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