Lambda Legal filed its brief Jan. 16 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Texas's 'Homosexual Conduct' law, which criminalizes oral and anal sex by consenting gay couples and is widely used to justify discrimination against lesbians and gay men. A diverse array of some of the nation's most respected organizations—including conservative groups, civil-rights organizations, religious groups and health professionals—filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Lambda Legal's behalf, also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the Texas law unconstitutional.
Lambda Legal represents John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested in Lawrence's Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false report found the men engaged in private, consensual sex. Once convicted of violating the 'Homosexual Conduct' law, they were forced to pay fines and are now considered sex offenders in several states.
'This is a tremendously important case for gay people and for everyone who believes in basic freedoms. These laws are an affront to equality, invade the most private sphere of adult life, and harm gay people in many ways,' said Ruth Harlow, Legal Director at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney in the case.
'The state should not have the power to go into the bedrooms of consenting adults in the middle of the night and arrest them,' Harlow said. 'But that's only the beginning of the damage done by this law and others like it around the country. These laws are widely used to justify discrimination against gay people in everyday life; they're invoked in denying employment to gay people, in refusing custody or visitation for gay parents, and even in intimidating gay people out of exercising their free speech rights.'
In addition to Texas, three states—Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma—still have consensual sodomy laws that apply only to gay people. Nine states—Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah (and Puerto Rico)—still have consensual sodomy laws that apply to straight and gay adults, but are invoked almost exclusively against lesbians and gay men in everyday life. These laws typically ban oral and anal sex with penalties that range from fines to 10 years in prison.
Organizations in Texas and all of the other states with sodomy laws are among the groups that filed friend-of-the-court briefs, including The CATO Institute; The libertarian Institute for Justice; The Republican Unity Coalition; more than two dozen religious groups; The National Association of Social Workers; The Mexican-American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Asian-American Legal Defense & Education Fund and more than two dozen gay-rights groups and other civil-rights organizations; law scholars, historians, international human-rights experts, public health authorities and others.
The state of Texas will file its reply by Feb. 18. The case is not yet scheduled for arguments. Lambda Legal attorneys Ruth Harlow, Patricia Logue and Susan Sommer, along with Brian Chase in Lambda Legal's Dallas office, are litigating the case.