Important Supreme Court Decisions in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
Read about Supreme Court cases that have dealt the gay-rights movement both setbacks and breakthroughs
by Beth Rowen
The U.S. Supreme Court
One, Inc. v. Olesen (1958)
The U.S. Post Office and the FBI deemed One: The Homosexual Magazine, a lesbian, gay, and bisexual publication, obscene, and as such could not be delivered via U.S. mail. The publishers of the magazine sued, and lost both the first case and the appeal. The Supreme Court accepted the case and reversed it, marking the first time the Supreme Court ruled in favor of homosexuals.
Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that consenting adults do not have a constitutional right to engage in homosexual acts in private, upholding a Georgia law. The majority said the "right of privacy" under the Due Process Clause does not give homosexuals the right to engage in sodomy. The "right to privacy" protects intimate marital and familial relations, but the Court said it does not cover gay sodomy because "no connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated." This decision, considered a serious blow to the gay-rights movement, was overturned in 2003's Lawrence v. Texas decision.
Romer v. Evans (1996)
In a 6–3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down Colorado's Amendment 2, which denied gays and lesbians protections against discrimination, calling them "special rights." According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, "We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds. These protections . . . constitute ordinary civil life in a free society."
Boy Scouts of America v Dale (2000)
In another setback to the gay-rights movement, the Court ruled 5–4, that the Boy Scouts of America have a constitutional right to ban gays because the organization's opposition to homosexuality as part of its "expressive message."
Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
The Supreme Court, 6–3, overruled a Texas sodomy law and voted 5–4 to overturn 1986's Bowers v. Hardwick decision. "The state cannot demean their [gays'] existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime," wrote Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion. In his dissent to Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Scalia said the court has "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."
United States v. Windsor (2013)
The Supreme Court ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. In a 5 to 4 vote, the court ruled that DOMA violated the rights of gays and lesbians. The court also ruled that the law interferes with the states' rights to define marriage. It was the first case ever on the issue of gay marriage for the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. voted against striking it down as did Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. However, conservative-leaning Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted with his liberal colleagues to overturn DOMA.
Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)
The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage opponents in California did not have standing to appeal the lower court ruling that overturned the state's ban, known as Proposition 8. The ruling will remove legal battles for same-sex couples wishing to marry in California. However, the ruling did not directly affect other states.
Obergefell v Hodges (2015)
This was the Supreme Court case that made banning same-sex marriage in any state illegal in the United States. Groups from all over the country sued their relevant state for not allowing them to get married and it was taken to the Supreme Court. The 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality stated that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause the states must provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples and must recognize marriages that were legally licensed and performed in other states.
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