HRC Applauds Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear Texas Sodomy Case
Developments in Equal Protection Law May Affect Outcome of Case, Says
News from the Human Rights Campaign, December 2, 2002
919 18th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006
WASHINGTON—The Human Rights Campaign praised a
decision by the Supreme Court today to hear a case that could lead to sodomy
laws being ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional. It has been 16 years
since the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws, but changes in the court and
developments in equal protection law could play a role in overturning these
invasive laws that mock the very freedom for which our nation stands, says HRC.
"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
The case the Supreme Court agreed to hear is Lawrence v. Texas. In
1998, Houston police broke into John Lawrence’s apartment shortly before
midnight seeking an armed intruder. Instead, they saw Lawrence having sex with
Tyron Garner and jailed both men on a state law that bans sex between
consenting adults of the same sex—but not of the opposite sex. Lawrence and
Garner pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and were each fined $200.
The state courts upheld the conviction, which if allowed to stand could
potentially harm the lives of both men. Lambda Legal asked the Supreme Court
in July to hear the case and declare a violation of privacy and equal
"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, HRC’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.
These laws are not benign as some might suggest, but have a tangible impact on
the lives of individuals and on the entire community. Until these laws are
overturned, a basic step on the path to freedom remains blocked."
In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws 5-4 in Bowers v. Hardwick.
Since the ruling, much has changed, including the fact that only three
justices of that ruling remain on the bench. In 1996, today’s Supreme Court
struck down an anti-gay amendment to Colorado’s 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
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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