HRC Applauds Supreme Court's Decision To Hear Texas Sodomy Case
Developments in Equal Protection Law May Affect Outcome of Case, Says HRC
[WASHINGTON, DC] - 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 persecution."
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 protection.
"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.
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.