Lambda Legal Urges U.S. Supreme Court To Overturn Texas's 'Homosexual Conduct' Law; Dozens of Respected and Diverse Groups Step Forward in Support
(New York, Thursday, January 16, 2003) - Lambda Legal filed its brief today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct” law, which criminalizes oral and anal sex by consenting gay couples and is widely used to justify discrimination against lesbians and gay men. A diverse array of some of the nation’s most respected organizations - including conservative groups, civil rights organizations, religious groups and health professionals - filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Lambda Legal’s behalf today, also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the Texas law unconstitutional.
Lambda Legal represents John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested in Lawrence's Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false report found the men engaged in private, consensual sex. Once convicted of violating the “Homosexual Conduct” law, they were forced to pay fines and are now considered sex offenders in several states.
“This is a tremendously important case for gay people and for everyone who believes in basic freedoms. These laws are an affront to equality, invade the most private sphere of adult life, and harm gay people in many ways,” said Ruth Harlow, Legal Director at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney in the case.
"The state should not have the power to go into the bedrooms of consenting adults in the middle of the night and arrest them,” Harlow said. “But that’s only the beginning of the damage done by this law and others like it around the country. These laws are widely used to justify discrimination against gay people in everyday life; they’re invoked in denying employment to gay people, in refusing custody or visitation for gay parents, and even in intimidating gay people out of exercising their free speech rights.”
In addition to Texas, three states -- Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma -- still have consensual sodomy laws that apply only to gay people. Nine states -- Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah -- and Puerto Rico still have consensual sodomy laws that apply to straight and gay adults, but are invoked almost exclusively against lesbians and gay men in everyday life. These laws typically ban oral and anal sex with penalties that range from fines to 10 years in prison.
Organizations in Texas and all of the other states with sodomy laws are among the scores of groups that filed more than a dozen friend-of-the-court briefs today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Texas’s law. Those groups include:
- The CATO Institute, telling the court that laws like the one in Texas violate personal liberties and contradict the nation’s historical commitment to freedom from government intrusion
- The libertarian Institute for Justice, saying that sodomy laws give the government inappropriate and unconstitutional power to invade people’s privacy
- The Republican Unity Coalition, arguing that it’s improper for a state to use a law to express its disapproval of gay people
- More than two dozen religious groups, explaining that even though some denominations don’t approve of or support homosexuality, they and the majority of religions all oppose laws criminalizing private, consensual intimacy between lesbian or gay couples
- The National Association of Social Workers (along with its Texas state branch), the American Psychological Association and other respected health and mental health groups, telling the court that homosexuality is not a disorder and that sodomy laws reinforce prejudice, discrimination and violence against lesbian and gay people
- The Mexican-American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Asian-American Legal Defense & Education Fund and more than two dozen gay rights groups and other civil rights organizations, explaining that there’s no justification for branding gay people as deviant with laws like Texas’s
- Law scholars, historians, international human rights experts, public health authorities and others, telling the court that sodomy laws are unconstitutional and harm gay people in many ways
"Some of the most diverse and respected voices in this country are lining up to tell the Supreme Court that these laws are contrary to American values," Harlow said. "Conservative groups are coming forward to say that the government has no business in people’s bedrooms. Mainstream civil rights organizations are speaking out about the inequalities and blatant discrimination these laws create. And our nation’s leading health advocates are unequivocally saying that these laws don’t serve any public interest.”
The state of Texas will file its reply to Lambda Legal’s brief by Feb. 18, which is also the deadline for any organizations to file briefs in support of the Texas law. The case is not yet scheduled for arguments, which will take place this Spring. Lambda Legal attorneys Ruth Harlow, Patricia Logue and Susan Sommer, along with Brian Chase in Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, are litigating the case. William M. Hohengarten, Paul M. Smith, and Daniel Mach from Jenner & Block, LLC in Washington, D.C., and Mitchell Katine from Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, L.L.P. in Houston, are Lambda Legal’s cooperating attorneys on the case.