John G. Lawrence of Lawrence v. Texas, arguably the most important gay rights case in the history of the Supreme Court, was angry when police charged into his home to find him having sex with Tyrone Garner. His courage in pressing the case led to a 2003 decision that read, “The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”
The decision in Lawrence, written for the majority by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in one instant ended the criminalization of homosexual sex and the sodomy laws used to oppress and marginalize gay men and women. Now the United States points toward other nations’ sodomy laws as human rights crimes. We’ve come a long way. John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner helped bring us there.
Lawrence died in November, AP explains, but his death is only now being reported. He was 68.
As the AP excerpt below suggests, Lawrence didn’t set out to change the world. He just wanted justice for the humiliation he had endured. —PZS
The Associated Press via Google:
The case began in 1998 when a neighbor with a grudge faked a distress call to police, telling them that a man was “going crazy” in Lawrence’s apartment just outside Houston. Police went to the home, pushed open the door and found Lawrence and Tyrone Garner having sex. Both paid $200 fines after spending several hours in the county jail for alleged violation of the state sodomy statute, a misdemeanor.
[Houston attorney Mitchell] Katine said Lawrence did not view himself as an activist.
“He was angry at how he was treated, both physically and personally,” he told the Chronicle. “He was taken to jail in the middle of the night in his underwear.”
AP / David J. Phillip
John Lawrence, left, and Tyrone Garner arrive at the state courthouse in Houston in November 1998 to face charges of homosexual conduct under Texas’ sodomy law. Their case would go before the U.S. Supreme Court and they would win.