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Lawrence v. Texas

Citation. 539 U.S. 558 (2003)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Texas convicted the petitioners of violating an anti-gay state law prohibiting people from engaging in sexual acts with someone of the same sex. The petitioners challenged the constitutionality of the state law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

In Bowers (overturned here), the Court upheld an anti-sodomy law, ruling that there was no fundamental right for gay people to engage in sodomy.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Under the rational basis test, a law must be rationally related to a legitimate government interest to be constitutional. It is the test that is generally used when there are no fundamental rights or suspect classifications (i.e. race) at issue.


A Texas statute criminalized engaging in “deviate sexual intercourse with” someone of the same sex. It defined deviate sexual intercourse as contact between the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of the other person, or genital or anal penetration of another person with an object.

Two police officers in Houston responded to a reported disturbance, and entered an apartment where the petitioners were engaging in a sexual act. The petitioners were both arrested and charged with and convicted of violating the statute.


Did Texas’ law criminalizing same-sex intercourse violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


Yes, Texas’ law criminalizing same-sex intercourse violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Justice Scalia

Under the same rational that the Court overruled Bowers—its foundations have been eroded, it has been subject to substantial and continuing criticism, and it has not induced detrimental reliance—the Court should have also overruled Roe v. Wade. Additionally, Justice Scalia argues that there has been reliance on Bowers, in the form of laws and judicial rulings upholding sexual morality as a rational basis for laws like those prohibiting incest and prostitution. According to Justice Scalia, the Court revised the standards for stare decisis set forth in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Justice Scalia argues that the Court was wrong in holding that there was no rational basis for the Texas law at issue in this case, because sexual morality is a legitimate government interest.

Justice Scalia concludes by asserting that the Court’s ruling is a product of the “homosexual agenda”, that the Court “has taken sides in the culture war”, that the Court was undermining the will of the people, and that the Court’s ruling was opening the door to marriage equality.

Justice Thomas

Justice Thomas joined Justice Scalia’s dissent, but wrote a separate dissent to state that he did not personally support the Texas law. However, he argued that it is not the Court’s role to invalidate the law, and that he does not believe there is a general right of privacy guaranteed by the Constitution.


Justice O’Conner

Justice O’Conner argued that the Court’s ruling did not require overturning Bowers, because the issue presented in this case was different than the issue in Bowers.


The Texas law was unconstitutional because it did not further any legitimate state interest that justified the intrusion upon personal and private lives.

In Bowers, the Court was wrong in defining the issue as whether there is a fundamental right for gay people to engage in sodomy. What was actually at issue was the liberty of gay people to choose to enter into relationships within their homes and private lives with dignity. Bowers was also incorrect in asserting that anti-sodomy laws had ancient roots. Laws targeting gay people emerged relatively recently. Additionally, while there are powerful voices that condemn the LGBTQ community, the question is whether those views can be enforced on our entire society through criminal law. The Court also established that there is an emerging recognition in domestic and international law of the liberty to choose one’s private sexual conduct.

According to the Court, Planned Parenthood v. Casey affirmed the due process right to make the kind of personal decision at issue here. In Romer, the Court struck down an anti-gay state law in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Casey and Romer represent Bowers‘ eroding foundations. The law at issue in this case also demeaned and stigmatized gay people. In light of Bowers‘ eroding foundations, the criticisms of the holding that the Court discussed are of increased significance.

While the Court recognized the importance of stare decisis, it held that there was no detrimental reliance on Bowers, and that Bowers produced uncertainty due to contradicting precedents.

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