SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN SODOMY LAW
Decision will mean the end of Missouri Gay Sex Ban
St. Louis, June 26, 2003: Saying that Texas' "Homosexual Conduct Law" "demeans the lives of homosexual persons," the United States Supreme Court today struck the sodomy law in a case that has far-reaching implications for Missouri. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court invalidated Texas' law banning consensual sexual acts between members of the same sex, saying that fundamental rights to privacy and liberty means that people "are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
This decision will have the effect of voiding Missouri's sexual misconduct law, which is very similar to Texas' and bans sexual conduct between members of the same gender only. In the only other litigation nationwide challenging the constitutionality of sodomy laws, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri represents four men charged under Missouri's Sexual Misconduct law following a raid at a Jefferson County adult bookstore in 2001. Missouri's law, like the Texas law struck by the court today, criminalizes sexual activity between members of the same gender only. Such laws, the Supreme Court wrote, seek to "control a personal relationship" that "is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals."
"The Court made clear today that government may not justify criminalization of acts based on outdated views of morality, and affirmed that people enjoy a fundamental right to intimate association" said Denise Lieberman, Legal Director of the ACLU-EM. "We expect this decision to effectively invalidate Missouri's outdated law, and have broad implications for the rights of people to be protected in their intimate relationships." Missouri is among four states, including Texas, that criminalize sex acts only between same-sex partners.
The ACLU's legal challenge of the Missouri law stems from an adult bookstore raid in which 13 people were arrested, but only those alleged to have engaged in same sex conduct were charged. The case highlights the disparate impact of the law on gays and lesbians, who are subject to criminal prosecution when heterosexuals engaging in the same acts are not. Arguments were heard in the Missouri case in February, with a ruling expected pending today's Supreme Court decision. St. Louis attorney Rick Sindel is litigating the case, State v. Dawson et al., as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU.
In today's ruling, the Supreme Court recognized the stigma attached to sodomy laws: "When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and the private spheres." The Court found this untenable. ?
"Sodomy laws impact the gay community beyond the threat of prosecution for their intimate relationships," Lieberman said. "These laws are often used to justify further discrimination in areas like housing, employment and parental rights, and have the effect of making gays and lesbians second class citizens. The Court today recognized this. Their love is no longer a crime."
Finding historical and moral justifications insufficient for criminalizing intimate associations among consenting adults, the Supreme Court took the bold move of invalidating its 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld Georgia's sodomy law, saying: "Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for [intimate and personal choices], just as heterosexual persons do. The decision in Bowers would deny them this right."