Lawrence v. Texas

Why is the case important?

Lawrence v. Texas Brief The central themes of this case are consensual same-sex intercourse, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause.


In Houston, Texas, Harris County Police officers were dispatched to a private home in response to a reported weapons disturbance. They entered (the right to enter does seem to have been questioned) the home where John Geddes resided, and observed Lawrence and another man, Tyron Garner, engaging in a sex act. The men were arrested, held over night and charged with violating a Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. Specifically the statute provided “A person commits and offense if he engaged in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” and goes on to define deviate sexual intercourse as follows: “ any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person or the penetration of the genitals or the anus of another person with an object”. The two men were then convicted before a Justice of the Peace.

Key Players

1 Appellants : John Lawrence, a weapons charge suspect, who was arrested for having sexual intercourse with another man in the privacy of his home. Appellee: The state of Texas, which enacted a law making it illegal for people of the same sex to have sexual intercourse.


Do the criminal convictions of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner under the Texas Homosexual Conduct law, which criminalizes sexual intimacy by same-sex couples, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples, violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of laws? Do their criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home violate their vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? Should Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), be overruled?


No, yes, and yes. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court held that the Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause. After explaining what it deemed the doubtful and overstated premises of Bowers, the Court reasoned that the case turned on whether Lawrence and Garner were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause. “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government,” wrote Justice Kennedy. “The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual,” continued Justice Kennedy. Accordingly, the Court overruled Bowers. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, with whom Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Thomas joined, filed dissents.

What was the effect of the supreme court case Lawrence v. Texas?


(Written by Justice Kennedy) The court does not focus on protecting sodomy specifically, but rather, personal relationships. It explains that despite the fact that the statutes in questions purport to only prohibit sex, “Their penalties and purposes, though, have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home.” The court found it alarming that the statute in question sought to control a personal relationship, stating that forming personal relationships is one of the liberties we have, and should be able to choose such relationships without fear of being punished or classified as criminals. Lawrence v. Texas Summary The Court ruled in favor of Lawrence, a man who was arrested for engaging in consensual intercourse with another man in violation of Texas law. The Court held that laws prohibiting sexual intercourse between members of The same sex violated The Due Process Clause of The Fourteenth Amendment. The concurring opinion noted that such laws also violate The Equal Protection Clause. The Court determined that such a limitation on The “right to liberty” that is included in The Due Process Clause must be based on a “legitimate state interest” in order to be valid and, in this case, it was not.

Paul M. Smith Argued the cause for the petitioners
Charles A. Rosenthal, Jr. Harris County Houston, Texas, argued the cause for Texas
Apartment of John Lawrence
John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner
Rehnquist Court
539 US 558 (2003)
Mar 26, 2003
Jun 26, 2003