The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Lawrence v. Texas

On June 26, 2003, a Supreme Court decision overturned a Texas law prohibiting consensual, private sexual activity between gays and lesbians. The Court ruled, in Lawrence v. Texas, that the state lacked the constitutional authority to criminalize such conduct. The court cited the fundamental right to privacy, as well as the right of gays and lesbians to enjoy equal protection under the law, as its reasons for the 6-3 ruling.

The opinion also overturned the infamous 1986 ruling in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court had upheld a similar Georgia sodomy statute.

The Bowers ruling was so widely criticized that one of the Justices to decide the case, the late Lewis Powell, later admitted that he had "made a mistake in that one." Justice Anthony Kennedy, who replayed Powell on the Court and who delivered the opinion in the Lawrence case, corrected that mistake, stating bluntly, "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it... should be and now is overruled."

LCCR's Wade Henderson hailed the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, saying, "Today's ruling is a tremendous victory in the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America."

He also called the ruling a breakthrough case for civil rights, stating, "Bowers has finally wound up in the same ashbin of history as other infamous rulings, such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott v. Sandford."

Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), was equally pleased, stating that "the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has seen discriminatory state sodomy laws for what they are-divisive, mean-spirited laws that were designed to single out and marginalize an entire group of Americans for unequal treatment."

Lawrence was a milestone in the quest for gay rights, effectively overturning all anti-gay sodomy statutes in state legislatures. Many advocates have long argued that comprehensive equality must originate at the federal level providing basic legal protection for gays from imprisonment and violence. Such a monumental victory in the courtroom is a necessary step in the acceptance and realization of gay rights nationwide.

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