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Bowers v. Hardwick

Law Dictionary
CASE BRIEFS

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

Citation. 478 U.S. 186, 106 S. Ct. 2841, 92 L. Ed. 2d 140 (1986)

Brief Fact Summary. Respondent was convicted under Georgia’s anti-sodomy statute for engaging in a sex act with another male.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is no fundamental constitutional right to engage in homosexual sodomy.


Facts. Georgia’s sodomy statute made it a crime to commit any sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another. Respondent, an adult male, was convicted under the statute for committing a sex act with another male. Respondent was in his own bedroom at the time he committed the offense.

Issue. Does the United States Constitution confer a right of privacy that extends to homosexual sodomy?

Held. No.
Justice White: No constitutional basis exists to rule in Respondent’s favor. Our cases concerning privacy do not stand for the proposition that any kind of private sexual conduct between consenting adults is constitutionally protected. It cannot be said that the right to engage in homosexual sodomy is a fundamental right implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. There is no connection between the traditional objects of privacy protection — family, marriage, procreation — and homosexual activity. The right to engage in homosexual sodomy is not a liberty deeply rooted in our Nation’s history and tradition. Indeed, proscriptions against the conduct have ancient roots.
The statute is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of protecting morality. Illegal conduct is not always immunized because it occurs in the home.

Dissent.
Justice Blackmun: This case is really about one of the most comprehensive of rights of civilized men, namely, the right to be left alone. Moreover, the behavior for which Respondent is charged occurred in the privacy of his own home — a place to which the Fourth Amendment attaches special significance.
Justice Stevens: The liberty interests addressed in our privacy line of cases surely embraces the right to engage in non-reproductive sexual conduct in the privacy of one’s home that others may consider offensive.
Concurrence.
Chief Justice Burger: The proscriptions against homosexual sodomy have ancient roots. Nothing in the United States Constitution protects such conduct.
Justice Powell: I concur in the judgment, but a sentence for homosexual sodomy could create an Eighth Amendment issue, which proscribes cruel and unusual punishment.

Discussion. The potential implications of the Supreme Court of the United States’ reasoning here are extraordinary. Under the Supreme Court’s reasoning a State could arguably make almost any form of heterosexual sexual behavior between unmarried adults, entered into in the privacy of their own homes, illegal. This case is later overturned by Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).

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