The US Supreme Court today heard arguments in the case of Lawrence v. Texas challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s sodomy law, which makes oral or anal sex between same-sex partners – but not opposite-sex partners – a crime. The case raises two questions: whether the law violates the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution because it punishes homosexual couples and not heterosexual couples and whether the law is a violation of the right to privacy. The Supreme Court ruling could affect same-sex-only sodomy laws that exist in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas and could call into question all sodomy laws. Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia ban consensual sodomy for all couples.
The Texas case was initiated in 1998 when a false report of a gunman led two sheriff’s officers to enter a home in Houston, Texas, where they found two men having consensual sex; the officers arrested the men on charges of “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex,” according to the Washington Post. The men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, appealed the ruling and were rejected at the state appeals court level. “Texas’s law and others like it 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 First Amendment rights,” argues Ruth Harlow, legal director of Lambda Legal, who is representing Lawrence and Garner in the case.
In 1986, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld Georgia’s sodomy law in Bowers v. Hardwick, ruling that banning both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy does not violate the right to privacy, according to the Post. However, ten years later, the Court ruled 6-3 that Colorado could not amend its state constitution to prohibit laws protecting lesbians and gays from discrimination, the Post reports. Chief Justice Rehnquist as well as Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.
If the Supreme Court decides the right to privacy argument in favor of the plaintiffs and rules that all sodomy laws are unconstitutional, that ruling will strengthen the right to privacy in general, which in turn will help protect the right to reproductive freedom. A decision is expected in July, according to the Post.