How Anti-Sodomy Laws Were Sunk: Racism, Jealousy, and a False Police Report
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If you love John Grisham's fictional legal thrillers, you'll be riveted to Dale Carpenter's real life page-turner Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas. Carpenter is a Law professor at the University of Minnesota and is involved with LGBTQ legal issues.
Told from the perspectives of the plaintiffs, arresting officers, attorneys, judges and prosecutors, Flagrant Conduct is a detailed account of the 2003 landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1986 decision in the Bowers v. Hardwick sodomy case, making same-gender sexual activity legal throughout the country.
I remember this case vividly. A bogus call to the Houston, Texas police about a burglary from a prying neighbor resulted in the police entering the home of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. The men were allegedly engaging in consensual sex. Reports vary wildly on what the officers saw with one reporting the men were not even in the same room. The men were arrested and held overnight in jail. They were charged with violating the state’s anti-sodomy law. Both men plead no contest to the charge.
The man who called the police to report a domestic disturbance, Robert Eubanks, was later charged with filing a false police report and spent 15 days in jail.
Writing in favor of the ruling, Justice Kennedy stated that "The petitioners 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. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter."
It was great to awake on the morning of June 27, 2003, to read the headlines stating that the highest court of this land struck down the Texas law that had criminalized sexual relationships between consenting adults. The Supreme Court's 6-3 decision was momentous—especially given the conservative composition of the court and the reactionary times in which we reside.
To see photos of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston—the two men who spurred the case—giving the nation a victory smile signaled, at least legislatively, a shift in protecting the private lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans.
But for some Americans the photo of Lawrence and Garner wasn’t disturbing just because they were two gay men. The silent issue in the Lawrence v. Texas