Supreme Court to Hear Sodomy Case
December 2, 2002
By Paul Johnson, Washington Bureau Chief
Washington, D.C.—The US Supreme Court Monday agreed
to hear a case testing the constitutionality of state sodomy laws. Currently
13 states have laws banning sodomy.
The justices will review the prosecution of two men under a 28-year-old
Texas law making it a crime to engage in same-sex sex.
In 1998, sheriff’s deputies, responding to a false report of an armed
intruder, entered John Lawrence’s Houston apartment and found Lawrence and
Tyrone Garner having sex.
Both were arrested and jailed overnight. The men pleaded no contest to the
charges and paid a $200 fine.
The Texas sodomy law under which they were charged bans sexual relations,
including oral and anal sex, between consenting adults of the same sex. It
does not apply to heterosexual couples.
The case was appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which refused
to hear it.
The men are represented by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund. Lambda argues the
Texas law violates the equal-treatment standard of the Constitution.
"The state should not have the power to go into the bedrooms of
consenting adults in the middle of the night and arrest them," said Ruth
Harlow, Legal Director at Lambda Legal, who is the lead attorney in the case.
"As a result of the convictions, neither man can hold jobs in dozens
of professions in Texas and may have to register as sex offenders if they move
to some other states," said Liz Seaton, the Human Rights Campaign’s
"These laws are used to deny gay workers jobs, refuse lesbian mothers
custody, oppose non-discrimination laws and block hate crime
legislation," said Seaton.
The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 1986 that consenting adults have no
constitutional right to private homosexual sex. Today’s decision by the
justices revisits the ruling.
"It’s tremendously significant that the court is revisiting a
previous ruling that has done substantial harm to gay Americans for so many
years," Harlow said. "Society’s knowledge about gay people, gay
families and gay lives has increased exponentially since 1986, and we believe
a more informed view of constitutional protections for gay people can now
"Sodomy laws are unfair, un-American and used to discriminate against
gay and lesbian Americans in a number of ways," said HRC General Counsel
and Legal Director Kevin Layton.
"We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision and we hope this is the
beginning of the end to an unfortunate chapter of singling out gay and lesbian
people for state-sanctioned persecution," Layton said.
If the court rules the Texas law unconstitutional it will nullify other
sodomy laws throughout the country.
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