Court Upholds Texas Sodomy Ban
PlanetOut.com, March 16, 2001
By Matt Alsdorf
SUMMARY: Texas is one of only four states that prohibits sodomy for gays
and lesbians, but makes it legal for opposite-sex couples. And an appeals
court has determined that it is not within its power to change that fact.
A Texas appellate court Thursday upheld the states ban on gay sex,
overturning an earlier decision by a smaller panel of the same court that
found the sodomy statue to be in violation of the state constitutions equal
The all-Republican 14th Court of Appeals voted 7-2 to preserve the rarely
enforced law. Writing for the majority, Justice J. Harvey Hudson said that the
right to make or change laws must be reserved for the legislature.
"Certainly, the modern trend has been to decriminalize many forms of
consensual sexual conduct even when such behavior is widely perceived to be
destructive and immoral," wrote Hudson, according to the Houston
Chronicle. "Our concern, however, cannot be with cultural trends and
political movements because these can have no place in our decision without
usurping the role of the Legislature."
But, Ruth Harlow, legal director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education
Fund, who argued the case on behalf of the men who were charged with sodomy,
said the decision "failed to enforce the constitutions promise of
"It guts the right to privacy," she said. "The government
does not belong in peoples bedrooms policing consensual adult
The case arose from the 1998 arrests of John Geddes Lawrence and Tyrone
Garner, who were caught having consensual sex when police entered Lawrences
apartment on a false report that there was an armed intruder. The two were
arrested for sodomy and jailed for a day before being released on $200 bond
They challenged their arrests on the grounds that it was a violation of the
Equal Rights Amendment of the Texas Constitution for the state to ban certain
acts for same-sex couples but to keep them legal for opposite-sex partners.
According to Lambda, Texas has had a sodomy law since 1860, but it
decriminalized such acts for different-sex couples in 1974.
Texas, which makes homosexual sex a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up
to $500, is one of just four states that prohibits sodomy between gay partners
only. Approximately a dozen other states, mostly in the South, criminalize
sodomy for both same- and opposite-sex couples.
Last year, a three-member panel of the 14th Court voted 2-1 that the law
was unconstitutional. The two justices in the majority on that decision
dissented from the Thursday ruling.
Lambda has promised to take the case to the Texas Court of Appeals, though
the Chronicle reports that there is some skepticism about whether the
conservative court will agree to hear the appeal.
The decision is only binding on the 14 counties over which the 14th Court
has jurisdiction, according to the Chronicle. But because the district
includes Houston, the states largest city, the court is often looked to for
guidance by judges elsewhere.
The Texas legislature will be considering a sodomy repeal measure this year
introduced by Democratic Rep. Debra Danburg. Danburg expects the bill to make
it out of the now-majority-Democrat House criminal jurisprudence committee
where it failed last year.
But the Republican Party of Texas is strongly opposed to reform. The party
platform last year included a public rebuke for the two judges who found the
sodomy law unconstitutional.
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