TODAY IN LGBT HISTORY: Ten years ago today, on June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down sodomy laws and making same-sex sexual activity legal throughout the U.S. Prior to the ruling, sex between people of the same sex was still illegal in 14 states and Puerto Rico; in Idaho, it was punishable by life imprisonment.
The case got its start in 1998 when Houston police entered the home of John Lawrence, allegedly witnessed him having sex with Tyron Garner, and arrested the two men on charges of “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” under Texas’s sodomy law.
Justice Anthony Kennedy penned the majority opinion in the case, writing, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”
Justice Antonin Scalia, on the other hand, wrote in his dissent, “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda. […] It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war.”
Many credit the Lawrence decision with paving the way for the two same-sex marriage cases that will be decided today. Mitchell Katine, an attorney in the case, told the Dallas Voice, “We wouldn’t be at this stage if that case hadn’t occurred.”
Garner and Lawrence died in 2006 and 2011, respectively, but their contribution to the LGBT rights movement should be remembered, and it gave them satisfaction to know they’d helped achieve something important, Katine said. “It made them proud, these non-political, non-activist, working-class gay guys could leave a legacy for the gay community.”