Lawrence v. Texas

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Status: Closed
Landmark Case, Victory
Supreme Court of the United States
Issues: Anti-LGBT Rulings, Laws and Amendments, Criminal Justice

Historic case that overturned all remaining state sodomy laws in the United States

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In 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Lawrence’s Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false report found the men having sex. The two men were convicted of violating Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct” law, which made it a crime for two people of the same sex to have oral or anal sex, even though those sex acts were legal in Texas for people to engage in with persons of a different sex. Lambda Legal quickly responded to represent Lawrence and Garner. Battling for years in the Texas courts, we sought to overturn the criminal convictions (which made the two men registerable “sex offenders” in several states) and to have Texas’s law declared unconstitutional. When the highest court in Texas eventually refused to even hear our arguments, we convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. In a stunning victory, the highest court in the land found the “Homosexual Conduct” law unconstitutional and established, for the first time, that lesbians and gay men share the same fundamental liberty right to private sexual intimacy with another adult that heterosexuals have.


The mere existence of sodomy laws often had been used to justify wholesale discrimination against LGBT people. In striking down those laws, this historic ruling removed a major roadblock in the battle for LGBT rights. No longer can gay people be considered “criminals” because they love others of the same sex. Moreover, laws that deny gay people liberty or equal protection no longer can be justified on moral grounds alone.

Lambda Legal's Impact

The breadth of this landmark case is extraordinary. The Supreme Court declared all sodomy laws unconstitutional, putting an end to the sodomy laws that remained on the books in 13 states at the time of the ruling, including laws that criminalized only same-sexual conduct and laws that criminalized oral and anal sex irrespective of the sex of the participants. The Court also reversed Bowers v. Hardwick, its 1986 decision that upheld Georgia’s sodomy law on reasoning that had been extraordinarily harmful to gay people’s struggles both for liberty and equality. The decision’s sweeping language about gay people’s equal rights to liberty marked a new era of legal respect for the LGBT community. Lawrence v. Texas is considered the most significant gay rights breakthrough of our time.