Lawrence v. Texas
The U.S. Supreme Court took two opposing views just 17 years apart, first upholding anti-gay sex laws in 1986 with its decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, then reversing that in 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas decision. The Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down state sodomy laws that made many homosexual acts illegal. The Court declared these laws unconstitutional under its liberty and privacy interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This decision was one of the underpinnings of the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) that declared laws prohibiting same sex marriages to be unconstitutional.
The Bowers v. Hardwick case grew out of a felony charge of consensual homosexual activity witnessed by a police officer who entered a man’s house to arrest him for a misdemeanor he’d already settled with the city of Atlanta Georgia. Although the case was dismissed in district court, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) picked it as a test case, prompting the plaintiff to sue the state over the constitutionality of the sodomy law. The law was upheld in state court but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the plaintiff, Hardwick, that the state law banning sodomy was unconstitutional. Now the state sued the federal district court, and the case went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the Supreme Court level, justices upheld the existing anti-sodomy law, saying that the right to privacy which was established by Griswold v. Connecticut did not extend to consensual sex acts. The vote was 5-4.
In Lawrence v. Texas the scenario was similar: police who entered an apartment on a false charge of a man with a gun witnessed two men engaged in a sexual act, then a misdemeanor. The men contested their arrests and fines under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because heterosexual couples could not be charged with the same crime for the same act. A state appeals court sided with Lawrence, agreeing that the state law was unconstitutional but a Court of Appeals panel upheld the law’s constitutionality. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the Texas law was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses, invalidating sodomy laws in 13 states.