Gay Rights

Lawrence et al. v. Texas, No. 02-0102

The Court's 6-3 decision in Lawrence et al. v. Texas struck down a Texas statute that made it a crime for persons of the same sex to engage in certain kinds of sexual conduct together. In declaring the law in violation of the Due Process Clause, the Court formally overruled its contrary ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986).

While just four states enforce anti-sodomy laws that are directed only at homosexual sodomy, 13 still have some form of anti-sodomy law on the books, and all these now appear invalid.

In striking down the Texas law, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority that the Court was now endorsing Justice Stevens' declaration (in his Bowers dissent) that "the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice."

"This," proclaimed Justice Scalia in what is proving to be the most-quoted dissent of the term, "effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation."

If the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest, he wrote, then the constitutionality of every state law that is based on the belief that certain forms of sexual behavior are "immoral and unacceptable" is now in doubt, including existing criminal laws against "bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity."

The Court, he said, "has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct." He thought the Court's reasoning "leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples" too.

Scalia further objected that the majority applied a different standard in defending its decision to overrule Bowers than it applied when defending its decision not to overrule Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992): "There, when stare decisis meant preservation of judicially invented abortion rights, the widespread criticism of Roe was strong reason to reaffirm it. … Today, however, the widespread opposition to Bowers, a decision resolving an issue as 'intensely divisive' as the issue in Roe, is offered as a reason in favor of overruling it."

At the heart of Lawrence v. Texas was the question of whether a criminal conviction under the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law violates the 14th Amendment. And at the heart of that question lay the Court's relatively recent opinion Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), which had rejected a similar challenge to a similar Georgia statute. It became apparent that in order to rule in petitioner John Lawrence's favor, the Court would have to overrule its contrary decision in Bowers.

Read the text of the Texas Homosexual Conduct law at issue in Lawrence v. Texas.

Read the Supreme Court's 1986 opinion upholding a similar Georgia law in Bowers v. Hardwick.

Read the Texas Court of Appeals decision upholding the Texas statute.

Read the petitioner's brief that Lawrence submitted to the Supreme Court.

Read the respondent's brief that the State of Texas submitted in defense of its Homosexual Conduct law.

Read the Supreme Court's transcript of the oral arguments in this case.

Read the Supreme Court's opinion that reversed the Texas Court of Appeals, overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, and struck down the Texas statute on due process grounds.

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