Big boost for privacy rights
In a ruling on a Texas law, the Supreme Court strengthened both gay rights and abortion rights.
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The ruling is consistent with a broad trend among state lawmakers. Roughly a dozen states have repealed anti-sodomy laws since 1986.Skip to next paragraph
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In his heated dissent, Justice Scalia predicted the majority opinion lays the foundation for future rulings mandating government recognition of same-sex marriages as well as judicial invalidation of laws banning bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. "This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation," Scalia says.
The decision stems from the September 1998 arrest of two men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, for allegedly violating Texas' Homosexual Conduct Law. The law made it a crime to engage in "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex."
The two men were arrested after a Harris County deputy sheriff, who was responding to a false report of an armed man causing a disturbance, burst into Mr. Lawrence's apartment and saw Lawrence and Mr. Garner engaged in a sex act.
Both men were held in jail overnight, and, following their convictions, were ordered to pay $341 in fines and court costs.
An appeals court panel reversed their convictions, ruling that the law was a form of unconstitutional discrimination. That decision was later overturned by the full appeals court. The convictions were subsequently also upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in Texas. Last December, the US Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
In finding that the Texas law violated Lawrence's and Garner's constitutional right to "liberty" in intimate relations, the court overturned a 1986 precedent in which the court upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy statute by ruling in part that there was no fundamental right to engage in sodomy. In overturning the case, Bowers v. Hardwick, Justice Kennedy said such homosexual conduct laws were an invitation to subject gays and lesbians to discrimination in the public and private spheres. "Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons," he writes.
"The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives," Kennedy writes. "It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter."
In his dissent, Scalia says the majority "has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" aimed at "eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct."
"It is clear from this that the court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed." Scalia says.
"Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home," he writes. "They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe is immoral and destructive." He adds, "The court views it as 'discrimination.' "
Scalia's dissent was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas. Kennedy's majority opinion was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. Justice O'Connor concurred in the judgment.