When 55-year-old medical technologist John Geddes Lawrence started boning 31-year-old Tyron Garner, Garner’s jealous ex, Robert Royce Eubanks, called the police saying there was a man in Lawrence’s apartment “going gun crazy.” The sheriff’s deputy entered the unlocked apartment with his weapon drawn and then arrested the two for sodomy.
RULING: The court ruled 6-to-3 that Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law criminalizing gay “sodomy” (but not heterosexual “sodomy”) violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection regardless of sex. That is, you can’t have a law that just targets just a male-on-male act. Furthermore, the court found that prosecuting private consensual sex acts does nothing to further state interests, a point that Justice Stevens made in his dissent against Bowers v. Hardwick.
WHY IT MATTERS TODAY: In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said states may not be able to prove that bigamy, adult incest, prostitution, statutory rape, and obscenity harm the social good, but that doesn’t mean the laws against aren’t worth upholding. Part of his worry is that people practicing these alleged moral ills will begin to define themselves as sub-classes whose lifestyles are unfairly targeted by certain laws. If drug users, polygamists, and prostitutes all claim “we were born this way,” then where will it end? This knife cuts both ways because even well-intentioned hate crime and affirmative action laws end up favoring one sort of citizen at the exclusion of another and at the expense of more equitable solutions.
COMING UP: We’ll visit three cases that may find their way to the Supreme Court, and our predictions on how they’ll do based court proceedings and Justice Stevens’ work.
Thanks to Aaron Goodman, Patrick Hoffman, and Vance Roper for their additional research and discussion.