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Love & the Law: Privacy? No. Sex? No. History? No. Liberty? Yep, We Were Wrong. Pt 2

By July 25, 2012May 29th, 2023No Comments


Lawrence v. Texas

From the very beginning of the Lawrence Opinion, one could tell that the Bowers decision was in trouble. Sometimes justices write opinions in this manner to throw readers off, but it wasn’t the case in Lawrence when Justice Kennedy opened the Opinion by explaining that the cornerstone of the Fourteenth Amendment is liberty and embedded in liberty is the right to privacy.


Houston , Texas police were called to a house on a weapons disturbance tip. They entered the home to witness John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner engaged in sexual activity. Both were charged and convicted of “deviate sexual intercourse,” a violation of a Texas statute. In their defense, they challenged the statute as unconstitutional with regards to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and a similar provision in the Texas Constitution.

The Texas Court of Appeals rejected the defense and Mr. Lawrence appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court saw Lawrence as presenting 3 issues, whether:

  1. The Texas statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment;
  2. The Texas statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and
  3. Bowers was decided correctly.

In analyzing the issues, the Court first turned to Griswold, which established privacy rights for marital relationships but, according to the Court, also set the foundation for individual privacy rights outside of marriage. So Mr. Hardwick was correct. The Court also considered another landmark case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, where personal rights of unmarried persons involving contraceptives was at issue. It then looked at Roe v. Wade and established the following rationale: Per Griswold, Eisenstadt, and Roe v. Wade, the privacy of a woman resulted in a woman’s right to “make fundamental decisions regarding her destiny.” It stands to reason that if the rights apply to women, then they assuredly apply to men. Accordingly, Due Process protection is much more expansive than the language implies.

Next, the Court considered Carey v. Population Services International, where the Court ruled that a law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to persons under 16 years was invalid.

The Court took these steps to show where the law had moved on the issue of privacy in intimate relations by the time the Bowers case was to be decided. It explained that Bowers was similar to Lawrence but the Georgia statute in Bowers applied to all Georgia citizens, whereas the Texas statute only applied to homosexuals. So equal protection of the laws was not provided to Mr. Lawrence.

The Court then considered the framing of the issue by the Court in Bowers, stating that it was too narrowly framed because it failed to consider the issue of liberty. Hmmm… The Court stated that adults, including members of the LGBT community, may choose the kind of relationships they want to enter into without sacrificing their dignity.

Addressing the issue of community and tradition as brought up by the Court in Bowers, the Court gave a history lesson on the law against homosexuals, stating that, in fact, there was no tradition of laws against gays until the late 19th century: Heterosexual couples participated in the same acts that homosexuals engaged in and it was the heterosexual behavior that was at issue initially. The prohibition was targeting non-procreative sexual activity, not homosexual activity per se. “It was not until the 1970’s that any State singled out same-sex relations for criminal prosecution and only 9 States have done so.”

Read: Lawrence’s and Geddes’ fundamental right of liberty and the inherent right of privacy found within the right to liberty were violated.

The Court acknowledged the importance of the Bowers’ rationale to a certain extent, recognizing that the Court in Bowers was rightfully giving a voice to those who held strong moral convictions. However, the Court qualified that recognition by also stating that the Court’s job is to define liberty, not push through society’s moral ideologies.

The Court continued to explain that well-esteemed bodies of American and European jurisprudence considered such laws draconian and restated what it said in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was decided after Bowers:

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Having re-established the principals laid out in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court then proceeded to discuss Romer v. Evans, stating that one of the intended results of the Romer decision was the removal of the stigma associated with criminalizing conduct such as gay sex.

After discussing Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Romer, the Court pointed out that the rationale for Bowers had been significantly weakened. Still, recognizing the doctrine of stare decisis in which precedent is given a very high amount of deference because of the legitimacy it gives to Court rulings, i.e., the law, and the stability it creates in the law and society, the Court nevertheless pointed out that the doctrine is not absolute. Hence, the Court concluded that Bowers wasn’t right when it was decided, and was not right now and therefore should not stand and, neither should the Texas statute.

Thus, ends the Love & the Law series for now. Given the thorough analysis of liberty and the right to privacy performed by the Court in Lawrence, one can only wonder how long it will take before DOMA is constitutionally invalidated as it is a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and likewise implicates the Fifth Amendment.

Recently, Massachusetts has requested that the Supreme Court should hear cases involving DOMA and invalidate the congressional statute because the statute forces States like Massachusetts, which perform and recognize same-sex marriages, to discriminate against its citizens and that per the Tenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress’s Spending power, Congress does not have the authority to do that.

The Love & the Law Episodes: Brief Case History | Contraceptives | The Color of Love | The IRS v. NY
Privacy? No. Sex? No. History? No. Liberty? Yep. Pt 1 | Privacy? No. Sex? No. History? No. Liberty? Yep. Pt 2

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