Last edited: February 14, 2005

Two Texas Men Challenge State's Ban On Gay Sex

REUTERS, November 18, 1998

By Andrew Kelly

HOUSTON - Two Texas men will appear before a Justice of the Peace on Friday, marking the start of a legal battle that their supporters hope will bring an end to a state law forbidding homosexual activity among consenting adults.

Tyrone Garner, 31, and John Geddes Lawrence, 55, were charged with homosexual conduct and spent a night in jail after sheriff's deputies burst into their bedroom on Sept. 17 to investigate a report of a disturbance involving armed men at a Houston apartment.

Since their arrest -- the report of an armed man running amok in the apartment turned out to be false -- the two men have kept a low profile and avoided contact with the press.

But one of their attorneys, David Jones, said Garner and Lawrence were determined to take a stand against what they regard as an unfair and anachronistic statute.

Jones said the arraignment before Judge Mike Parrot was expected to be a brief event, with his clients likely to plead no contest and pave the way for an appeal to a higher court.

He added that the first step after they plead no contest and are found guilty would be to apply for a trial at the county criminal court level.

Sodomy laws, outlawing oral and anal sex, were once in force across all 50 U.S. states and in Puerto Rico.

Since 1962, however, legislatures in 25 states have repealed their laws and courts have invalidated them in another six. The most recent such ruling occurred last month in Maryland.

Fourteen states and Puerto Rico still have sodomy laws that apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Five states, including Texas, target only homosexual activity.

Punishments for those convicted vary from a fine of $200 in Texas to a maximum of 20 years in jail in Georgia or Virginia.

Harris County (Houston) District Attorney John Holmes said that as long as the law remained on the books, his office was obliged to prosecute cases if sufficient evidence was available.

Holmes said sodomy prosecutions were rare because sex acts were seldom witnessed by others, though he prosecuted two cases early in his career involving prisoners.

John Whitmore, who chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the Senate had wanted to throw out the sodomy law in 1993 when the Texas Penal Code was revised, but that the more conservative House of Representatives insisted on keeping it.

Michael Adams, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU believed that governments had no right to regulate people's private sex lives.

``We're optimistic that eventually we will eliminate the sodomy statutes in every state either through lawsuits or by repeal in the legislature,'' he said.

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