A Georgia police officer illegally entered the home of Michael Hardwick (on a recalled arrest warrant) and witnessed Hardwick blowing some dude in the privacy of his own bedroom. The officer then arrested Hardwick and his partner on sodomy charges (then defined as oral or anal sex between any two people) and ACLU took it on as the “perfect test case” to challenge anti-sodomy laws.
RULING: The 5-to-4 ruling upheld the constitutionality of the Georgia sodomy law. But in their decision, the justices focused solely on gay men, never touching lesbian or heterosexual oral sex (which they all presumably indulged in). Specifically, the court concluded gay sex is not a constitutionally-protected “right.” Chief Justice Warren E. Burger concurred with the ruling saying, “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental [constitutional] right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”
WHAT DID STEVENS DO?: In his dissent, Stevens wrote, ”[T]he fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.’ From the standpoint of the individual, the homosexual and the heterosexual have the same interest in deciding how he will live his own life, and, more narrowly, how he will conduct himself in his personal and voluntary associations with his companions. State intrusion into the private conduct of either is equally burdensome.” His scathing dissent was a key factor in eventually over-turning this ruling.
WHY IT MATTERS TODAY: Though states have the right to legislate morality, this astoundingly iniquitous and unfair ruling happened after Roe v. Wade—amid arguments over the privacy guaranteed by the Constitution and courts. The case also occurred in the early stage of the AIDS epidemic when homophobia was growing to a fever pitch. Also, the court considered the law to be fair because it could be applied to all citizens equally, though its enforcement usually targeted gay men. Luckily, Georgia’s own Supreme Court threw out the discriminatory law in 1998 and the Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws nationwide in Lawrence v. Texas just 17 years later.