Texas High Court Slams Shut Door to Justice in Prosecution Under 'Homosexual Conduct' Law

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Lambda Legal likely to appeal constitutional challenge to U.S. Supreme Court
April 18, 2002

(DALLAS, April 18, 2002) - Lambda Legal Thursday said it likely will go to the United States Supreme Court now that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to hear an appeal by two Houston men convicted of violating the ‘Homosexual Conduct’ Law by having consensual sex in the privacy of one man’s home.

The men had petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court on criminal cases, after their constitutional challenge was rejected by the intermediate Court of Appeals. That court said "preserving public morality” justified the anti-gay law.

With this ruling, there is no other court in Texas where the men can turn to appeal their convictions for having consensual sex at home. In an earlier case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that this high criminal court had jurisdiction over any challenge to the ‘Homosexual Conduct’ law. Yet now that court also offers no hearing and no chance at justice on this subject.

“It’s shocking that neither of the supreme courts in Texas will even consider the serious constitutional problems with this law,” said Lambda Legal Director Ruth E. Harlow.

Lambda Legal argues that the ‘Homosexual Conduct’ law is discriminatory and conflicts with the right of privacy that all Texans enjoy.

"The law intrudes on people's intimate lives and creates a legal double standard for lesbians and gay men. These men literally were arrested behind the walls of the home - is there any place more private?” said Lambda Legal Supervising Attorney Susan Sommer.

Lambda Legal’s local counsel, Houston lawyer Mitchell Katine, said, "This law greatly harms not just our clients, but gay men and lesbians throughout the state. We now are left with no recourse but the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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 sex.

Both men were arrested and jailed overnight. A county criminal court convicted and fined John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. Lambda Legal appealed on their behalf, to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Texas has had a sodomy law since 1860, but decriminalized such activities by different-sex partners in 1974.

Texas now is one of only three states, along with Kansas and Oklahoma, that prohibits consensual sex acts between same-sex partners only. Lambda Legal won its challenge to a similar Arkansas law at the trial court level in Jegley v. Picado; the state has appealed. Ten 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 Legal, the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered, and people with HIV or AIDS, will open a Dallas office in June. It has its headquarters in New York and other regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

(Lawrence and Garner v. Texas)

Contact: Ruth Harlow, 212/809-8585 x. 210
Peg Byron, 212/809-8585 x. 230, 888-987-1984
Lee Taft 214/219-8585



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