LAWRENCE v TEXAS (2003)
LGBTQ persons in the United States have traditionally been the subject of public ridicule and discrimination. Criminalized entirely at the inception of the nation, anti-gay laws spread throughout the nation during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Supreme Court would acknowledge the gay community as a group with rights to speech under the Constitution in 1958 (One, Inc. v. Olesen). However, for an extended period past 1958, Texas, as well as 13 other states, would maintain “Homosexual Conduct” statutes that placed criminal penalties on sex between same-sex couples.
While today it would seem strange, such laws were upheld in a 1986 case known as Bowers v. Hardwick. The Bowers case arose when an Atlanta police officer, responding with an invalid warrant for public intoxication, surprised a gay couple engaged in sexual relations in their home. Although the District Attorney’s office quickly dropped charges against the couple, Michael Hardwick sued Georgia state attorney general Michael Bowers for a declaratory judgment on the statute. In a 5-4 decision handed down by Justice Byron White, the U.S. Supreme Court insisted that a right to “homosexual sodomy” could not be found in the nation’s history or Constitution. White also maintained that overturning anti-sodomy laws would create a “slippery slope” that could legitimize other forms of illegal sex.
Lawrence v Texas arose out of a controversy over Texas sodomy laws, racism, and homophobia. The story began with John Lawrence, a white man, and his partner Tyrone Garner, a black man, who went to dinner with another friend, Robert Eubanks, who was also white. Upon returning to Lawrence’s appointment, Eubanks became jealous. Intoxicated, Eubanks left the apartment and called the police, reporting a "black man is running around with a gun." Upon arriving on the scene, Houston police officers found no gun, but reported that they saw Lawrence and Garner having consensual sex in the bedroom.
The officers arrested Lawrence and Garner on a misdemeanor charge under the Texas Anti-sodomy Code of 1973. In the past, gay men detained under this law remained silent out of a sense of shame. However, Lawrence and Garner sought out help from Lambada legal, a civil rights organization. They filled an appeal with the Texas Courts of Appeals, which overturned the misdemeanor and deemed the sodomy law unconstitutional. Texas officials appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which upheld the sodomy law. Lawrence then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court..
In Lawrence v Texas, the Rehnquist Court had to decide if the criminal convictions of the same-sex couple, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, under the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of Equal Protection of Laws. Specifically, Lawrence and his attorney asserted that the 1973 Texas homosexual conduct law criminalized sexual acts by same-sex couples but did not outlaw the same behavior by partners of the opposite sex. Secondly, the justices had to determine if Lawrence and Garner’s convictions for consensual sexual intimacy committed by adults in their own home violated their due process rights. Lastly, the High Court had to decide if the previous Supreme Court case of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) should be overturned. In Bowers, the court had ruled that the constitutional right to privacy does not protect consensual, adult sex in the home. - Sandra Harper
Constitutional Issue Raised in the Case
Was Texas’ anti-sodomy law an unconstitutional invasion of privacy?
Citation and Decision
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) | Full Decision
In a 6-3 decision handed down by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy law as unconstitutional. Kennedy found that the statute violated the privacy rights of the couple under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, as sex acts are private. In doing so, the court overturned Bowers v. Hardwick and invalidated sodomy laws in thirteen states.
1. Are people who identify as LGBTQ to be protected under the 14th Amendment from forms of discrimination?
2. Do the Petitioners’ criminal convictions under the Texas statute–which criminalizes sexual intimacy by same-sex couples, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples–violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of laws?
3. Do the Petitioners’ criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home violate their vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
4. What is the compelling government interest in prohibiting consensual sexual behavior between adults?
5. What U.S. Supreme Court cases after this finding used Lawrence v Texas as case law? And what were the outcomes?
Oyez: Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
Georgetown Library: LGBTQ Civil Rights
LAMBDA Legal: The Case That Brought Down Sodomy Laws
More Perfect: The Imperfect Plaintiffs