Lawrence v. Texas
539 U.S. 558, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003)

  • Lawrence and Garner were a homosexual couple. Acting on a tip from a neighbor, the police entered Lawrence’s home and found the couple together. They were arrested and charged with sodomy.
    • Under Texas law at the time, homosexual sex was illegal, even if consensual.
      • Tex. Penal Code Ann. §21.06(a): “A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex.”
  • Lawrence and Garner asked that the case be dismissed on the grounds that the law was unconstitutional because it only affected homosexual couples. That violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. In addition, it violated their right to privacy.
  • The Trial Court found Lawrence and Garner guilty. They appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The Appellate Court en banc reversed and upheld the conviction. Lawrence and Garner appealed.
  • The Texas Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Lawrence and Garner appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found the Texas law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the law violated due process guarantees.
    • The Court overruled the similar case of Bowers v. Hardwick (478 U.S 186 (1986)), which allowed a similar Statute in Georgia, quoting the dissent in Bowers:
      • “The fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice…Second, individual decisions by married persons, concerning the intimacies of their physical relationship, even when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of ‘liberty’ protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Moreover, this protection extends to intimate choices by unmarried as well as married persons.”
  • In a concurrence, it was argued that the Texas Statute was unconstitutional, but on equal protection grounds since it only banned same sex conduct. Laws that ban sodomy between same sex and opposite couples (like the one in Georgia) should remain constitutional.
    • “The State cannot single out one identifiable class of citizens for punishment that does not apply to everyone else, with moral disapproval as the only asserted State interest for the law.”
  • In a dissent, it was argued that the 14th Amendment only applies to fundamental rights (See Duncan v. Louisiana (391 U.S. 145 (1968)). If the Court was not prepared to find that homosexual sodomy is a fundamental right, they cannot use the Due Process Clause to force States to accept it, nor can they overrule Bowers.
    • In addition, the dissent argued that morality is a legitimate State interest. If the homosexuals wanted to change people’s perception of morality, the proper way to do that was through legislation, not through the courts.
    • The dissent suggested that if homosexual sodomy was allowed, all of the laws affecting sexual mores (e.g. polygamy) would also be in jeopardy.
      • However, the Court had (implicitly) found a fundamental right to intimacy, but that does not extend to a fundamental right to sexual deviancy.