Responding to a reported weapons disturbance in a private residence, Houston police entered John Lawrence’s apartment and saw him and another adult man, Tyron Garner, engaging in a private, consensual sexual act. Lawrence and Garner were arrested and convicted of deviate sexual intercourse in violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. In affirming, the State Court of Appeals held that the statute was not unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, with Bowers v. Hardwick , 478 U.S. 186 (1986) , controlling.
The State cannot demean a homosexual person’s existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.
Brief Fact Summary:
While homosexual conduct is not a fundamental right, intimate sexual relationships between consenting adults are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
This case struck down the contrary precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick and found that intimate relations between individuals in the privacy of a home had become widely accepted in society, so they could no longer be criminalized. Protection of this conduct thus is a fundamental right under due process. It is uncertain whether the Supreme Court specifically meant that engaging in homosexual intercourse was a fundamental right, and the standard of review that was used in the case is equally unclear.
The Lawrence v. Texas Decision The Court held that the Texas law violated the Due Process Clause because it limits the “right to liberty” included in the Due Process Clause which gives Americans the “right to engage in private conduct without government intervention” and because the Texas law “furthers no legitimate state interest” in doing so. The Court began its analysis by examining whether the Texas law restricted the appellants from exercising a liberty in a way that violated the Due Process Clause. It noted that the “liberty”, not recognized by the appellate court, at stake in this case is “the right to choose to enter into relationships in the confines of…[the home]…and still retain…dignity.” The Court recognized a trend towards courts conceptualizing same-sex intimacy as a liberty that would not be subject to punishment when carried out by “consenting adults acting in private”. It noted that there is no legitimate state interest in controlling “personal choice” as to sexual behavior. Any alleged immorality of such behavior, the Court concluded, does not justify enforcement of the law. The Court noted that, historically, such laws as the law in Texas had been formulated to protect against “predatory acts” or other acts which are generally illegal. It noted that in this case, however, the law prohibited acts—consensual sexual behavior in private settings—which were associated with personal liberties. It stated that, as a result, enforcement of the law raised questions about violations of the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The concurring opinion of Justice O’Connor stated that the Texas law violated the Equal Protection Clause, noting that any law that “inhibits personal relationships” must be subjected to a “rational basis review” before it is found to be unconstitutional. That is, O’Connor concluded that mere “moral disapproval” was not sufficient justification for discriminating against a group of people in the way that the Texas law did and that there would have to be a “legitimate state interest” underlying the law to justify it. O’Connor asserted that there was no “rational basis”—”no legitimate state interest”—for government intervention in personal relationships in the case of gay people. O’Connor also noted that the Texas law in question violated the Equal Protection Clause by “singling out” gay people for punishment, effectively subjecting them to a “lifelong penalty”.