Last edited: February 14, 2005

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 senior counsel.

"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 prevail."

"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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