Just Days Apart, Courts in Texas and Arkansas Hear Challenges to Sodomy Laws

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Southern states heat up as struggle for equal protection, privacy rights, unfolds
October 27, 1999

(NEW YORK, October 27, 1999) -- Within a three-day period in early November, courts in Texas and Arkansas will grapple with intrusive sodomy laws, placing the South in the middle of an increasingly successful lesbian and gay civil rights campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Wednesday.

  • On Monday, Nov. 1, Pulaski County Circuit Court in Little Rock, Arkansas, will hear Picado v. Pryor, a case filed by Lambda on behalf of seven lesbian and gay Arkansans.

  • On Wednesday, Nov. 3, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston considers argument in Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, in which Lambda defends two men arrested in a private apartment, charged with having consensual sex in violation of the state "Homosexual Conduct" law.

Lambda Managing Attorney Ruth Harlow will argue both cases and will be available after the hearings to talk to the media.

"Consensual sex laws like these in Arkansas and Texas target lesbians and gay men and invade the privacy of our homes. They brand us as criminals and are used to justify anti-gay discrimination," said Harlow from Lambda's National Headquarters in New York prior to the hearings. "It's time for the courts to enforce the rights of equal protection and privacy, and to keep law enforcement out of all citizens' bedrooms," she said.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn noted, "The fact that Houston deputies actually entered an apartment and arrested two men under the Texas 'Homosexual Conduct' law signifies the intrusion sodomy laws threaten to gay people. The government has no place policing intimate, consensual acts in the home, and lesbians and gay men should not have to answer to different criminal laws than their heterosexual neighbors."


Lambda filed suit against the Arkansas sodomy law on behalf of seven lesbians and gay men -- Charlotte Downey, Robin White, Bryan Manire, Randy McCain, Elena Picado, Vernon Stokay, and George Townsand.

Under its statute, enacted in 1977, Arkansas forbids private oral and anal sex between consenting adults of the same sex; offenses are punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and one-year jail sentence. Because the law does not apply to the same acts by different-sex couples, Lambda argues that the sodomy ban violates the right to equal protection and treats lesbian and gay Arkansans as second-class citizens.

The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled in June against state attorneys seeking to dismiss the case, affirming the plaintiffs' right to seek relief before being arrested or prosecuted, and sending the case to the Circuit Court. Despite the High Court's ruling, the state continues trying to dismiss the case.

The November 1 hearing will focus on the state's argument that plaintiffs have not sued the correct defendants. Lambda argues that, to the contrary, the plaintiffs have sued all the state officials responsible for enforcing the statute -- the state attorney general and all state prosecutors -- precisely the officials they must sue to get the law struck down.

Lambda filed Picado in January 1998 with assistance from David Ivers and Emily Sneddon of the Little Rock firm Mitchell, Blackstock, Barnes, Wagoner and Ivers, and Arkansas attorney Gary Sullivan.


As in neighboring Arkansas, the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law only applies to consensual oral and anal sex between adults of the same sex. But in this case, law enforcement actually arrested two men in the privacy of one man's home.

On September 17, 1998, sheriff's deputies arrested John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner in Lawrence's Houston apartment and charged them with violating the state's sodomy statute. The officers entered the apartment based on a false report from another man of an armed gunman on the premises.

Lawrence and Garner were jailed overnight. They now are challenging the same-sex sodomy law as unconstitutional under the federal and state rights to equal protection and privacy. They are represented by Lambda and Houston attorney Mitchell Katine of the firm Williams, Birnberg & Anderson.

The trial court denied Lawrence and Garner's motion to quash the charges against them. That ruling is now on appeal.

Adopted in 1974, the Texas law makes violations a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine.


"Lambda's cases in Texas and Arkansas are part of our nationwide effort to emancipate lesbians and gay men from intrusive, discriminatory laws," Dohrn said.

Steadily, consensual sodomy laws are falling. While in the early 1960s, all 50 states had some sort of criminal law that outlawed consensual, today, only 16 sodomy laws remain, primarily concentrated in the South.

State courts in Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Montana, and Tennessee recently interpreted such laws to be wholly unconstitutional or not to apply to any consensual activity

Four states, including Texas and Arkansas, have sodomy laws that single out lesbians and gay men for criminal status based on private, consensual sexual behavior. The twelve remaining states criminalize sex acts between different-sex and same-sex partners.

    WHAT: During three-day period, courts in Texas and Arkansas consider sodomy law challenges

    WHO: Managing Attorney Ruth Harlow will argue both cases; Harlow, local counsel, and plaintiffs discuss case with media after the hearings

    In Arkansas: Picado v. Pryor

      WHERE: Pulaski County Circuit Court, 401 W. Markham, Little Rock

      WHEN: Monday, November 1, 10:30 a.m. (Central)

    In Texas: Lawrence and Garner v. Texas

      WHERE: Fourteenth Court of Appeals, 1307 San Jacinto, 9th Floor, Houston

      WHEN: Wednesday, November 3, 1:30 p.m. (Central)

    (Picado v. Pryor, No. CV-99-7048; Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, Nos. 14-99-00111-CR & 14-99-00109-CR) --30--
    Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager); Ruth Harlow 212-809-8585 x 210


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