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Religious Tolerance logo

Decriminalizing same-sex behavior, Part 4

Reactions to the Lawrence v. Texas decision
by the principals, in the media, and in courts

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The Supreme Court ruling & its implications are described in a separate essay

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On 2003-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas law that had banned gay sex, in private between consenting adults. More details. This is a landmark ruling for gay rights activists, because it apparently invalidated existing "sodomy" laws in 13 states. Further, the Supreme Court found that the U.S. Constitution implies that American adults have the liberty to engage in private sexual behavior without government interference. Thus, the effect of the ruling may well expand beyond gays and lesbians to include a broad range of sexual activities performed by persons of all sexual orientations.

Almost all responses to the court decision neatly fell into two groups:

bullet Many conservative Christian groups -- both Protestant and Roman Catholic immediately criticized the decision as a major threat to heterosexual marriage and to the stability of the rest of society. They frequently cited the minority decision by Justice Scalia.
bullet Gay and lesbian positive agencies immediately hailed the decision as a major advance for homosexual rights. They frequently cited the majority decision by Justice Kennedy.

As is customary in such developments, the press seems to have completely ignored the opinions of all mainline Christian groups, liberal Christian groups and groups from other religions. They appear to take the position that the battle over the definition of marriage and over equal rights for gays and lesbians is between conservative Christians, and gay-positive groups.

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Reactions to the court decision by principals in the case:

bullet Lawyer Ruth Harlow, of the gay-positive Lambda Legal Defense Fund, who represented the plaintiffs, said: "This is giant leap forward to a day where we are no longer branded as criminals and where that is no longer accepted by the most powerful court in the country." She also said that "The court is just catching up with American society." 1 During another interview, she said that discrimination against gays and lesbians in marriage laws and in the U.S. military would be two of the injustices that would be targeted next. She said: "By knocking out both sodomy laws and the justification of morality, this decision makes it much harder to defend those discriminatory schemes. The actual answer for those issues will be saved for another day." 2
bullet John Geddes Lawrence, one of the plaintiffs, said that he and his partner Tyron Garner were happy with the decision. Lawrence said that they "never chose to be public figures or to take on this fight....Not only does this ruling let us get on with our lives, but it opens the door for gay people all over the country to be treated equally." 3
bullet Bill Delmore, an assistant district attorney in Harris County, was involved in the appeals of the case. He said: "Obviously I am a little bit disappointed in the outcome because of the amount of work we put into it....But I have a lot more serious criminal offenses in files on my desk than this. It is going to be something of a relief to leave the social implications and philosophy and all that behind, and just focus on putting the bad guys in prison." 4

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Reactions to the court decision in the media:

bullet Andrew Cohen, a CBS News legal analyst, said that the court "has created a broad new legal rationale for future challenges by gay rights activists...This is a major ruling that will change a lot of other laws down the road." He said that "gays and others" may be able to use the ruling to challenge a wide range of laws on the basis of a right to privacy. 5
bullet Neil Steinberg, Columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times said: "For the past 200 years, the miracle of democratic government has been slowly stuffing religion back into its box. Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on anti-sodomy laws is another step. I don't muse about God much, obviously. But when I do, I can't conceive of Him caring an awful lot about the various practices consenting adults do back in their bedrooms. Awful childhood diseases don't bother Him, apparently. No reaction on the Congo to date. Is he really steamed that Brad and Tim are frolicking? Not only don't I believe it, but I have a hard time believing that anybody believes it." 6
bullet David Von Drehle, columnist for the Washington Post wrote: "Lawrence v. Texas could have implications far beyond the closed doors of private homes. In an unexpectedly large step, the court said traditional morality is no justification for making legal distinctions among sexual behaviors of consenting adults. 'The fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,' Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote, quoting approvingly from his colleague Justice John Paul Stevens.

And in at least one earlier precedent, the realm of private, intimate life has been defined by the Supreme Court to include 'marriage . . . family relationships [and] child rearing.' 7

bullet A Washington Post editorial stated that: "Texas defended its law as an effort to enshrine traditional morality, but Justice Kennedy declared that the law 'furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.' Law, the court has said in effect, is meant to regulate crime, not a majoritarian conception of sin. The court's decision represents an enormous breakthrough in the struggle of gay men and lesbians for what the court at long last has learned to call 'respect for their private lives'." 8

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  1. Tim Harper, "Sodomy laws struck down: Highest U.S. court says Texas statute unconstitutional. Dissenter warns of legalized marriage for homosexuals," Toronto Star, 2003-JUN-27, Page A3.
  2. "Homosexuals Push for Same-Sex Marriage After Sodomy Ruling,", 2003-JUN-27, at:
  3. "Supreme Court strikes down Texas sodomy law," Law Center, 2003-JUN-26, at:
  4. Dean Murphy, "Gays Celebrate, and Plan Campaign for Broader Rights," The New York Times, 2003-JUN-27. at:
  5. "High Court Rejects Sodomy Law," CBS News, 2003-JUN-26, at:
  6. Ted Olson & Todd Hertz, "Opinion Roundup: Does Lawrence v. Texas Signal the End of the American Family? Evangelicals may not agree on antisodomy laws, but they're all concerned about what the Supreme Court's decision of them means." Christianity Today, Week of 2003-JUN-30, at:
  7. David Von Drehle, "A Debate on Marriage, And More, Now Looms," Washington Post, 2003-JUN-27, Page A01, at:
  8. "Breakthrough," Washington Post, 2003-JUN-27, Page A28. Online at:

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUN-26
Latest update: 2003-AUG-2
Author: B.A. Robinson

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