It all started in the night of September 17th 1998, when an anonymous caller informed the Houston police that some crazed nut was waving his gun and threatening to shoot at 794 Normandy Street. The officers that hastened to the scene encountered something entirely different however; they broke down the doors and saw two men getting it on together. It appeared that the two men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were doing it pretty much voluntarily. According to the Sun-Sentinel the officers in a healthy and reasonable world would have backed off, apologized and gone on to track the anonymous caller down.*
Not so in Texas. Lawrence and Garner were taken to the precinct and detained there for a night. They were accused of violating the anti sodomy legislation still active in the state of Texas. Both were convicted and received fines of 200 dollars plus the costs of the proceedings. Incidentally the police also managed to track down the anonymous caller who himself was sentenced and a fine was imposed. By now the Lawrence vs. the state of Texas case has arrived at the highest echelon of American judiciary system, the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. The court decided to take the case in December of 2002 with the smallest possible majority (five against four) and the initial pleas were held at the end of March 2003.
The 143-year-old Texas law prohibiting sodomy has been challenged numerous times but has survived all attempts till now. In 1969 a homosexual male, Alvin Buchanan, was arrested for having sex in a public toilet. According to the anti sodomy legislation which prohibits oral and anal contacts between partners irrespective of their gender, Buchanan could have received a maximum of 15 years in prison. Buchanan took the case to the federal authorities and attempted to repeal the law with a personal privacy defense. Eventually he was acquitted on a technicality.
The Texas house of representatives in Austin smelled the impending danger and they decided to ‘modernize’ the law to prevent it from being repealed. They now allowed heterosexual contacts involving the ‘other’ orifices (this is still formally illegal in thirteen states). Homosexuals caught in the act did not face a prison sentence any more but merely a fine. In the 90s the law criminalizing homosexual contacts was attacked by a lesbian attempting to become a police officer. Her application was turned down since as a lesbian she was formally an offender. Needless to say her efforts failed.
Lawrence’s attorney pleaded before the Supreme Court that the anti sodomy legislature in Texas and other states violates citizens’ civil liberties. This he claimed was even worse than the fact that the law also discriminates between people of different sexual orientations. The constitutionally guaranteed liberties were put in place to protect people from an intrusion into their private lives by the government. However as recently as in 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that the anti sodomy legislature in Georgia, which applies to both straight and gay couples, does not violate the constitutional right to privacy.
Another interesting aspect of this case is that Lawrence and Garner are not only supported by a variety of civil liberties and human rights organizations, they are also supported by a number of libertarian organizations. One of the underlying principles of libertarians is that individuals must be allowed freedom to make their own choices whether they lay in the field of economics or sexual preference. “Libertarians argue that the government has no business in the bedroom or in the boardroom”, a statement by Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute in the International Herald Tribune.
Dana Berliner, associated with the Institute for Justice, another important libertarian institution, argues against the prevalent opinion that Lawrence vs. Texas is about homosexuality. Her institution fights against regulation of small business by the government. “If we allow the government to mingle in our sexual behaviour, it becomes hard to imagine in what fields the government will not act as a regulator”, says Berliner.
After all there is no larger invasion that can be perpetrated by Big Brother than that of regulating sexual contacts between two (or more) consenting adults. That’s why this case is important to the civil liberties of not only gays but of all law abiding citizens. Just like Larry Flynt said: “If the freedom of speech of scumbags like me is not guaranteed, neither is yours”.** A ruling is expected in June.
* - This w/u is intended to illustrate the extent to which governments influence our lives. I will always stand up and speak out for what I believe are fundamental human rights and liberties. That is totally unrelated to whether or not I support or endorse a particular way of living.
** - I do not equate homosexuals to scumbags. The statement is only intended as an illustration.
International Herald Tribune (various issues)
Elsevier vol 18, May 3 2003 (dutch newsmagazine)