Thursday, July 19, 2012
Lawrence v the State of Texas
The Internet have been abuzz about the Supreme Court since the Affordable Care Act was deemed constitutional... also, gay rights has been a hot topic for the past ten years. Why has gay rights made so much progress in recent years? Are we more progressive? It seems this is the perfect time to bring up John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner vs. Texas.
Sodomy laws have existed in American states since the 18th century. All states have had them in one form or another. The earliest is from the state of Virginia where in 1778 Thomas Jefferson tried to ease the punishment from death to a mere castration. Until very recently, in many parts of America gay men could lose their right to vote and go to jail just for being gay. Because of the private nature of sodomy, these laws were almost never prosecuted. Laws that not prosecuted are difficult to challenge because they never come to trial. No big deal right? Since no one was getting hurt, the laws were harmless. Right? ... Not exactly. Because being gay was illegal, discriminating against them was legal. They could lose their jobs and/or lose housing as a result of being outed. You could basically deny gays service on pretty much anything you chose. The problem activists had for decades was that they couldn't challenge a law if the laws at the root of the problem were not being executed. No one was going to jail for sodomy, so the law couldn't be challenged because they weren't going to trial.
In researching this blog post, I pulled out my dusty copy of the Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions. I was disappointed that Lawrence vs. Texas is not listed. My book was printed 1999 and this decision is too recent (in 2003). I need a more recent copy, apparently. It does list its predecessor Bowers vs. Hardwick (1986). This is the case that Lawrence vs. Texas overturned. In Bowers vs. Hardwick the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy only applied to "family, marriage or procreation." Since sodomy doesn't fall into this these categories, the majority decision was that gay couples should not have the expectation of the privacy. In 1986, 24 states and DC still had laws against sodomy.
In the Houston area, in 1998, four police officers responded to a bogus call regarding weapons fire. They entered an apartment via an unlocked door with his weapons drawn. No weapons were found but apparently two men were having sex, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. They were arrested and went to trial. Thanks to some very hard working rights advocates, it eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Texas law was deemed unconstitutional by a 6 to 3 vote, so 13 other similar state statutes were overturned. As you probably guessed, the three minority judges were Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas.
As a straight man, I understand how gay sex can make people uncomfortable, but this is something that most of us get over. We grow up. I don't think I will ever understand why social conservatives, like Rick Santorum and the like, are so against gay rights. Conservatives are supposed to be against "big government," yet they advocate for a government that is big enough to take away the rights of free tax-paying citizens to love and/or have sex with whomever they want. I guess we just add this to the long list of things-I-don't-get.