The Supreme Court
Two men, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner, were charged with a misdemeanor on a sex charge in 1998. They were each fined $200 and forced to spend a night in jail.
The case started when a neighbor called in a fake distress call saying someone was “going crazy” in Lawrence's Texas apartment. When the police pushed open the door, they found Lawrence and Garner engaging in sodomy, which was illegal in Texas. In fact, until the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, 13 states had sodomy laws and four of them prohibited oral and anal sex between same-sex couples. These four states were Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. The other nine states ban consensual sodomy for all citizens—Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Just the Facts
Bowers v. Harwick involved the arrest of Harwick, who was charged with violating Georgia's sodomy law when he was caught engaging in a sexual act with another male in his bedroom in August 1982. Only three of the current justices were on the Court at the time—Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices O'Connor and Stevens. Stevens dissented with the ruling. At that time, 24 states had anti-sodomy laws on the books.
This case was not the first time the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of sodomy laws. In 1986, a precedent-setting ruling in Bowers v. Harwick upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law that was similar to the Texas law just struck down.
Texas defended its sodomy law because it protected the state's interest in marriage and child-rearing. The state said in its defense of the law that homosexual sodomy had “nothing to do with marriage or conception or parenthood and it is not on a par with these sacred choices.”
The greatest fears of proponents of the Texas sodomy laws, and similar laws in other states, is that without these laws the country will head down the path of legalizing same-sex marriages. Opponents believe sexual relations in the privacy of one's home should not be the subject of legislation.
Justice Kennedy wrote the 6 to 3 opinion for the court and was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens. Justice O'Connor wrote a separate concurring opinion. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas.
In his opinion for the Court, Justice Kennedy wrote:
Justice Scalia, who believes this ruling will end all rights of the states to enact laws based on morality, wrote in his dissent:
No one knows what's next after this ruling. Moves are certainly being made in Congress to introduce a new constitutional amendment to respond to the Court's ruling. At a July 2, 2003 press conference at the White House, President Bush was asked if a new “federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman” was needed. In response, Bush said, “I don't know if it's necessary yet. Let's let the lawyers look at the full ramifications of the recent Supreme Court hearing. What I do support is the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Deal Hudson, the editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis, says that “Lawrence is a devastating decision, worse than most people think—and for reasons that haven't fully dawned on them yet. This is without question the most damaging decision handed down by the courts since Roe v. Wade—one that will have even more far-reaching effects than its predecessor.” He believes that the ruling leaves the states with no defense against homosexual marriage and could lead to the removal of legal restrictions on other kinds of sexual behavior and could be used to strike down euthanasia restrictions. He says all these laws could, “fall like dominoes.”
Only time will tell if Hudson's dire predictions come true. This case obviously involved not only states' rights, but also individual rights, which we'll discuss further in our next section on laws that deal with control of our bodies.