Two Men Continue Fight to Overturn Texas Anti-Gay Law
(NEW YORK, April 16, 2001) — Two Houston men who were criminally convicted for having sex in the privacy of their homes are petitioning the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review their case after a Court of Appeals ruling upheld the state’s “Homosexual Conduct” law. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund represents the men and aims to finally bring an end to the state's same-sex only sodomy law.
“Texas’s highest criminal court should declare this archaic and biased law unconstitutional. The law intrudes on people’s intimate lives and creates a legal double standard for lesbians and gay men,” said Lambda Supervising Attorney Susan Sommer, who drafted the petition for review with Lambda Legal Director Ruth E. Harlow.
Lambda argues that the Court of Appeals erred in citing an interest in “preserving public morality” to justify the law’s discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that the court was also wrong in finding that the law does not discriminate on the basis of sex. Additionally, Lambda argues that the law is contrary to the right of privacy that all Texans enjoy.
Said Harlow, “The Court of Criminal Appeals should hear these important constitutional claims against a law that greatly harms not just our clients, but gay men and lesbians throughout the state.”
The case began September 17, 1998, when sheriff’s deputies, responding to a false report of an armed intruder, entered a private Houston apartment where they found two men engaging in intimate conduct.
Both men were arrested and jailed for over 24 hours before being released on $200 bond each. A county criminal court convicted John Lawrence and Tyron Garner of a Class C misdemeanor, which carries up to a $500 fine. Lambda appealed on their behalf.
Last June, a panel of the appeals court held that the statute violates the Equal Rights Amendment of the Texas Constitution because it criminalized oral and anal sexual conduct depending on the sex of the individuals involved, without adequate justification. Texas has had a sodomy law since 1860, but decriminalized such activities by different-sex partners in 1974.
On motion by the state, the entire appeals court reheard the case, and this March ruled 7-2 to uphold the law, over a strong dissent by Justice John Anderson.
Noted Sommer, “Texas State Representative Debra Danburg’s bill in the legislature to repeal the ‘Homosexual Conduct’ law has made it out of committee this year, and will be the subject of public hearings, demonstrating greater awareness of and concern about this unnecessary, unfair law.”
Texas now is one of only three states, along with Kansas and Oklahoma, that prohibit consensual sex acts between same-sex partners only. Lambda recently won its legal challenge to a similar Arkansas law in Picado v. Jegley. Twelve other states still prohibit consensual oral and anal sex between different- and same-sex partners alike, despite the nationwide trend toward abolishing such invasive criminal laws.
Lambda Cooperating Attorney Mitchell Katine of the Houston law firm Williams, Birnberg & Anderson assisted with the petition. Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With 16 attorneys, Lambda has its headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.
Contact: Susan Sommer 212-809-8585 x 271
Jennifer Grissom 212-809-8585 x 231