ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Strike Down Texas Same-Sex "Sodomy" Law

March 26, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In a landmark case being argued before the Supreme Court today, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging the Justices to strike down a Texas law that makes some kinds of sexual intimacy a crime, but only for gay people.

“The state has no business peering into our bedrooms,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Seventeen years ago the Court ignored that basic privacy right when it upheld Georgia’s ‘sodomy’ law in Bowers v. Hardwick. The time has come to correct that mistake.”

Through a friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU argues in Lawrence v. Texas that laws that criminalize private consensual intimacy violate the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and privacy. The ACLU, which represented the two gay men accused of violating Georgia’s “sodomy” law in Bowers, asserts that the Court incorrectly decided Bowers and urges the Justices to overturn that decision.

“Laws like the one in Texas that punish only same-sex intimacy are especially repugnant,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “The Court should say once and for all that in America, equal protection under the law applies to everyone, including lesbians and gay men.”

As the Lawrence case proves, laws that criminalize consensual intimacy between members of the same sex continue to be prosecuted. But the harm done by these laws goes much further, the ACLU said. In the eyes of many, their mere existence defines lesbians and gay men as criminals. These laws are also used to deny parents custody of their children, stifle the voices of lesbian and gay people in the political process, and discriminate against people in the workplace.

Many other laws continue to unfairly penalize lesbian and gay people in the criminal justice system. For example, the Court is still deciding whether to review the case of Matthew Limon, who was convicted of having consensual oral sex with another male when they were both teenagers. Had the other teenager been a girl, Limon would be serving no more than a 15-month sentence. Because Limon is gay, he is now serving a sentence of 17 years in Kansas state prison.

The Court is expected to issue a decision in Lawrence by the end of June. That decision will likely also affect the Court’s treatment of Matthew Limon.

Lambda Legal represents the petitioners in Lawrence and the ACLU represents Matthew Limon.

The ACLU’s brief in Lawrence is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/garner.pdf

The ACLU’s petition for a hearing in Limon is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/limon_cert.pdf

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