Supreme Court Insight On The ‘Lawrence v. Texas’ Decision (LGBTQ+


In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a historic ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, declaring laws criminalizing sodomy unconstitutional.

This landmark case marked a significant victory for LGBTQ+ rights and privacy rights in America.

The legal history surrounding laws against sexual acts not related to procreation stretches back centuries. Medieval English laws dating back to the 14th century outlawed sodomy, with severe punishments such as burning at the stake. The United States inherited this legal tradition from England, with laws against sodomy prevalent until as late as 1961, when all states criminalized anal sex.

Despite changing cultural and political landscapes, anti-sodomy laws persisted, disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ individuals. Throughout the 20th century, these laws were selectively enforced, often targeting gay men while ignoring heterosexual couples engaging in similar acts.

The Lawrence case arose in Texas, one of the few remaining states with anti-sodomy laws. John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in their Houston apartment for engaging in consensual sex. The police response to a false report of a weapons disturbance led to their arrest under Texas’ law prohibiting “deviate sexual intercourse.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, overturned the precedent set in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld anti-sodomy laws. Kennedy’s opinion emphasized the right to privacy and personal autonomy, asserting that intimate sexual acts between consenting adults in the privacy of their homes are protected under the Constitution.

While Justice Sandra Day O’Connor concurred with the majority’s judgment, she did not endorse its reasoning, preferring an equal protection approach. Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented vehemently, arguing against substantive due process and asserting the government’s interest in regulating morality.

The Lawrence decision had far-reaching implications, advancing LGBTQ+ rights and reinforcing the right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. It contributed to subsequent legal victories, including Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

However, recent shifts in the composition of the Supreme Court and challenges to substantive due process raise concerns about the future of Lawrence v. Texas. The decision’s legacy and continued relevance in the face of evolving legal landscapes underscore its significance in the fight for equality and civil liberties.

Read the full decision in Lawrence v. Texason FindLaw.