On December 2nd, The Human Rights Campaign praised a decision by the Supreme
Court 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 laws.
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