HRC Lauds Landmark Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down State Sodomy Laws, Recognizing Right To Privacy For GLBT Americans

On June 26th, The Human Rights Campaign lauded the Supreme Court's
landmark ruling that struck down discriminatory state sodomy laws
in 13 states on the basis that they violate Americans' Constitutional
right to privacy. The 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas makes clear that
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a fundamental
right to privacy, says HRC.

"This is an historic day for fair-minded Americans everywhere," said HRC
Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "We are elated and gratified that
the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has seen discriminatory state sodomy
laws for what they are – divisive, mean-spirited laws that were designed
to single out and marginalize an entire group of Americans for unequal

The ruling – overturning state sodomy laws and the Court's infamous 1986
Bowers v. Hardwick decision – removes the stigma and criminal brand that
the laws have long placed on GLBT Americans. Sodomy laws have long been
used as a basis for discrimination against GLBT Americans in employment
opportunities, in custody and visitation rights and in myriad other
aspects of ordinary life.

"Gay Americans are parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends,
co-workers and church-goers. They make important contributions in every
community in the country," added Birch. "This ruling opens the door for
new advances toward full equality and should be viewed as a challenge to
legislators to help pass important legal protections for GLBT Americans
– like employment non-discrimination laws and comprehensive hate crimes

"Lambda Legal deserves an enormous amount of credit for bringing this
critical case to the highest level," said Birch. "The GLBT community
also owes a debt of gratitude to John Lawrence and Tyron Garner for
letting their story be heard."

In 1998, Lawrence and Garner pleaded no contest to breaking the Texas
sodomy law, after police broke into Lawrence's home in search of an
armed intruder and discovered the two men engaged in intercourse. Both
men were arrested and imprisoned overnight. They were fined $200 each
and forced to pay court costs. The convictions barred them from holding
several types of jobs in Texas and would have required them to register
as sex offenders should they have moved to any of several other states.
Lambda Legal asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and declare a
violation of privacy and equal protection.

HRC signed onto a "friend of the court" brief written by the law firm of
O'Melveny & Myers LLP that summarizes the direct and resulting harms
caused by sodomy laws. The brief describes sodomy laws as outdated. It
provides strong evidence that gays and lesbians are law-abiding,
productive citizens who are healthy partners, good parents, patriotic
veterans and sometimes heroic citizens. A variety of other civil rights
organizations, religious groups, public health experts, historians and
others have also either signed or filed briefs of their own in favor of
repealing sodomy laws.

In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws 5-4 in Bowers v. Hardwick.
Since the ruling, much has changed. Only three justices from that ruling
remain on the bench. And the Georgia sodomy law, which was at issue in
Hardwick, was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 1998. The late
Justice Lewis Powell Jr., who joined the majority in Hardwick, expressed
regret for voting to uphold the discriminatory Georgia law. "I think I
probably made a mistake in that one," Powell told law students in 1990.

"Justice Powell is looking down on us today and smiling," said Birch.
"We believe that some day, Justices Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist, who
joined in the dissent, will recognize their error."

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, , John
Paul Stevens and David Souter cast the majority votes. Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor wrote separately to say that she agreed that the Texas law
should be invalidated but did not join in overturning Bowers. While the
case was not decided on Equal Protection principles- the majority found
that all Americans have a right to private consensual sexual conduct-the
decision also states "Equality of treatment and the due process right to
demand respect for conduct protected by the substantive guarantee of
liberty are linked in important respects, and a decision on the latter
point advances both interests."

The ruling strikes down sodomy laws in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South
Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

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