Lawrence v. Texas: Are Same-Sex Marriage Bans Constitutional?
When the Supreme Court decides to address the issue of same-sex marriage, Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), which legalized same-sex sexual activity, will likely play a large role. In fact, in his dissent Justice Scalia asked that in light of the decision, “What justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘the liberty protected by the Constitution’?”
The Facts of the Case
John Lawrence was arrested in his own apartment by police responding to a weapons disturbance complaint after they observed him and another adult man, petitioner Garner, engaging in a private, consensual sexual act. Texas law criminalized consensual, adult homosexual intercourse as sodomy, but did not punish similar behavior by opposite-sex couples. Accordingly, the two men challenged the constitutionality of the law.
The Texas State Court of Appeals ruled that the statute was not unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It relied heavily on existing Supreme Court precedent established by Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, which upheld a similar sodomy law in Georgia.
The Supreme Court’s Ruling
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Texas statute violated the Due Process Clause and expressly overruled Bowers.
In the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court reasoned that the petitioners should be free as adults to engage in private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause. It stated, “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”
It further noted that sodomy laws in states like Texas do more than prohibit a certain sexual act. Rather, “their penalties and purposes have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home.”
Finally, the majority concluded, “The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.”
The decision was highly controversial when it was issued in 2003. However, it is largely credited with bringing the legal issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons to the forefront and paving the way for challenges to other laws infringing their rights.
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
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- Freedoms of Press
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- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
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Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.