Lambda Takes on Texas Anti-Gay Sodomy Law

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National lesbian & gay civil rights group is lead counsel for two Houston men
November 20, 1998

(NEW YORK, November 20, 1998) -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said outside a Houston court Friday that it will challenge the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law in defense of two men arrested in a private home on charges of engaging in consensual sex.

Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg, after the arraignment hearing in The State of Texas v. Lawrence and The State of Texas v. Garner, said that the national organization for lesbian and gay civil rights will seek to strike down the Texas sodomy law that the men are charged with violating.

Violation of the "Homosexual Conduct" law, which forbids most sexual contact between people of the same sex, is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $500.

"A $500 fine and offensive police intrusion do not begin to reflect the real harm that this archaic law does to lesbian and gay Texans," Goldberg said outside the hearing. "The Texas sodomy law tramples on one of the most intimate aspects of people's lives and singles out lesbians and gay men for harsh treatment. It is an unconstitutional assault on privacy and equal protection rights," she said.

Lambda and its cooperating attorneys, Mitchell Katine and David Jones of the Houston law firm Williams, Birnberg & Anderson, L.L.P., represent the defendants, who pleaded "no contest" before Justice of the Peace Mike Parrott.

The men were jailed overnight after being arrested on September 17 by Harris County police who entered one of the men's apartment in response to a false report of an armed intruder. Police said the men were engaged "in deviate sexual intercourse, namely anal sex, with [a] member of the same sex."

Goldberg stressed, "The state's 'Homosexual Conduct' law, even when not used in criminal proceedings, classifies gay people in Texas as unequal to their fellow citizens, stigmatizes them as criminals, and forbids them from engaging in the same private acts with their partners that are allowed for non-gay Texans."

"This law puts people at risk of losing their jobs and their homes, simply for sexual intimacy with another consenting adult," she continued, adding, "We will challenge the law's violation of the United States and Texas Constitutions."

Texas is one of only five states that singles out same-sex couples for criminal status based on private, consensual sexual behavior.

Lambda, which has worked on earlier efforts to overturn the Texas sodomy law, currently is challenging a similar same-sex ban in Arkansas and helped overturn such sodomy laws in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Montana. The United States Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans provides a powerful federal tool for attacking these discriminatory criminal laws.

Marking its 25th anniversary, Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization defending the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With its headquarters in New York, Lambda has regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.


Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x230


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