On September 17, 1998, police officers in Houston, Texas, responded to a weapons disturbance report and entered the apartment of John Geddes Lawrence. There they witness Lawrence and another man, Tyron Garner, engaging in a consensual sex act. The two men were arrested, charged and convicted of engaging in homosexual conduct. They had violated the Texas Penal Code which prohibited sodomy between same-sex couples. The case was appealed to the Harris County Criminal Court, then to the Texas Court of Appeals, and finally to the United States Supreme Court.
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), was a landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the sodomy law in Texas and reversed the Court’s own decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), where the Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not confer a fundamental right on homosexuals to engage in consensual sodomy. The majority, consisting of Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer, held that the convictions under the Texas statute violated the petitioners’ vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the due process clause for several reasons, among them that the statute sought to control a personal relationship between two consenting adults. Lawrence thus invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that criminalized sodomy between consenting same-sex adults acting in private and invalidated the application of sodomy laws to heterosexual sex based on morality concerns. Justice O’Connor agreed that the Texas statute was unconstitutional, however she based her decision on the equal protection clause, not on the due process clause, as the statute discriminated against homosexuals as a distinct class of persons. She did not join the majority in overruling Bowers. The dissent, consisting of Justices Scalia and Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist, did not believe that Bowers should have been overruled, that the Texas statute did not violate due process nor did it infringe on a fundamental right, and it did not deny the equal protection of the laws. Justice Thomas believed that the statute was “uncommonly silly” and should be repealed by the state legislature, however the Supreme Court was not empowered to help as there is no general right of privacy in the Bill of Rights or in any other part of the Constitution.
This collections consists of the briefs and amici curiae from the Fourteenth Texas Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.