Lawrence v. Texas

PETITIONER: John Gettes Lawrence and Tyron Garner
LOCATION: Apartment of John Lawrence

DOCKET NO.: 02-102
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 539 US 558 (2003)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 26, 2003

Charles A. Rosenthal, Jr. - Harris County Houston, Texas, argued the cause for Texas
Paul M. Smith - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

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.


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?

Media for Lawrence v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-102, Lawrence against Texas will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The question before the court is the validity of a Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct.

In Houston, Texas, police officers were dispatched to a private residence in response to a reported weapons disturbance.

The right of the police to enter does not seem to have been questioned at any stage in the case.

Now, the police entered the apartment where one of the petitioners, Joseph Geddes Lawrence resided.

The officers observed Lawrence and other man, Tyron Garner engaging in a sexual act.

Garner is also one of the petitioners here.

Lawrence and Garner were arrested, held in custody overnight, and charged under the Texas Criminal Statute.

The statute punishes certain sexual conduct when committed by persons of the same sex.

The petitioners were convicted and they challenged their convictions under the due process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.

The Court of Appeals for the Texas Fourteenth District affirmed the conviction.

They had an en banc hearing and it was a divided court.

The majority in the State Court considered Bowers versus Hardwick, the decision issued by our Court in 1986 to control the federal due process aspect of this dispute.

We granted certiorari to consider the constitutional claims presented including the question whether Bowers versus Hardwick should be overruled.

We conclude this case shoed be resolved by determining whether the petitioners were free as adults to engage in this private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and for this inquiry, we deem it necessary to revisit this Court’s holding in Bowers.

Bowers versus Hardwick had some factual similarities to this case.

There too, a police officer observed the petitioner in his own bedroom engaging in intimate sexual conduct with another man, as in the instant case, the defendants in Bowers were adults at the time of the alleged offense and their conduct was consensual.

The Bowers court rejected the petitioner’s claims under the Due Process Clause.

The Bowers court began its discussion as follows: It said, the issue presented is whether the federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence, invalidates the laws of the many states that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time.

That statement in our view discloses Bowers failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake.

To say the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim put forward, just as it would demean a married couple or to be said that marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.

The laws involved in Bowers and here are to be sure statutes that do prohibit a particular sexual act.

Their penalties and purposes though have more far-reaching consequences touching upon the most private human conducts, sexual behavior and in the most private of places, the home.

The statutes seek to control a personal relationship that is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.

Now, In academic writings, some of which are referred to in the opinions and in many of the amicus briefs filed in this case, there are criticisms of the historical premises that were relied upon by the majority and in other concurring opinions in Bowers.

We need not enter this debate to reach a definitive historical judgment.

It should be noted, however, that there is no long-standing history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter.

Laws prohibiting sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private.

A substantial number of prosecutions for which there are records were for predatory acts against those who could not or did not consent as in the case of a minor.

The history relied upon in Bowers is more complex than the majority and concurring opinions in that case indicate.