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Lawrence v. Texas

This Case In History

Lawrence v. Texas was a significant gain for the cause of gay and lesbian civil rights. In this decision, the Supreme Court held that state laws prohibiting sodomy were unconstitutional, arguing that any government interest in consensual sex between adults, either homosexual or heterosexual, infringed upon the right to liberty protected by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This argument follows the analysis made in rulings such as Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down bans on abortion and birth control (respectively) on the basis that such bans infringed on a person's right to liberty, which has been determined to include the rights to privacy and autonomy. Lawrence essentially overturned the 1986 precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court upheld a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy similar to the one struck down in Lawrence. A central argument for the decision in Bowers was that a long history of laws existed in Western civilization that have sought to repress homosexual conduct. The majority in Lawrence noted, however, that many sodomy laws have been overturned since Bowers, reflecting a new trend. Only 13 states in 2003, as compared to all 50 in 1961, still had laws prohibiting sodomy.

The Lawrence ruling caused considerable controversy. Opponents to the ruling contended that the majority manipulated the due process clause to push the cause of gay rights. They also disagreed with the overturning of Bowers v. Hardwick, because it took away from the states the power to determine their own moral laws.

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