Cops in the Bedroom: How the Texas Sodomy Case Began

Document Date: June 26, 2003

Cops in the Bedroom: How It All Started

The Lawrence case began on September 17, 1998. Responding to a false report of a weapons disturbance, county sheriff’s deputies entered the home of John Lawrence and found him in bed, sexually intimate, with Tyron Garner. Instead of excusing themselves and leaving, the deputies arrested Lawrence and Garner for violating the Texas Code, which makes oral and anal sex a crime, but only for same-sex couples.

The two men were taken to the county jail. They were not released until the next day.

Represented by Lambda Legal, the two men challenged the charges, saying the law violated their right to equal protection (because the law singles out same sex couples) and their right to privacy (because they were adults being intimate at home). The Court denied their motion, and they then pleaded “no contest.”

A Brief Victory

The Texas Court of Appeals at first ruled for the two men. It said the Texas law was sex discrimination because whether or not the act was a crime depended on the sex of the people involved. But shortly after that decision was issued by a panel of judges, the entire Court of Appeals agreed to reconsider the decision. The full Court then reinstated the conviction of the two men.

The full Court of Appeals said that the right to privacy did not protect the men, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (see Getting Rid of Sodomy Laws). It also ruled that the state could treat same-sex couples differently in order to express its moral disapproval of gay people.

Lambda then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case. The ACLU, in an unusual move, urged the Court to take the case. It did, and the Lawrence decision is the result.

The Other Case: People v. Limon

At the same time the Lawrence case was working its way through Texas courts, People v. Limon was working its way through Kansas courts. Matthew Limon was arrested when he was 18 for having sex with another boy about to turn 15. They were both in a home for developmentally disabled children. Under Kansas law, if Limon had had sex with a girl, he would have faced at most a sentence of 14 months in jail. But since he had sex with another boy, he was sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in state prison.

With “friend-of-the-court” assistance from the ACLU, Limon appealed his conviction to the Kansas Court of Appeals. He made the obvious equality claim; it is not constitutional to imprison him for 17 years when a boy his age who had sex with a girl would get 14 months in jail. Relying on Bowers v. Hardwick, the Court rejected his claim.

The ACLU then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his conviction, or to hold his case pending the outcome in Lawrence. The Lawrence petition for review was already in front of the Court. The Court has held Limon’s petition while it took up Lawrence.