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Bowers v. Hardwick

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

    Brief Fact Summary. A Georgia law criminalizing sodomy was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States despite its effect of outlawing consensual homosexual sexual conduct in private residences.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The federal Constitution does not confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy.


    Facts. Respondent, Mr. Hardwick, an adult male, was charged with violating Georgia’s sodomy law by committing a sexual act with another adult male in his bedroom. The law defines sodomy as committing or submitting to “any sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another.” After the prosecutor chose not to present the case to the grand jury, the Respondent sued in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The trial court rejected the claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed. It held that the law “violated respondent’s fundamental rights because his homosexual activity is a private and intimate association that is beyond the reach of state regulation.

    Issue. Whether this law is constitutional:
    Whether a rational basis for the law exists if the conduct at issue is not a fundamental right.

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. None of the rights announced in prior cases bear any resemblance to the claimed constitutional right of homosexuals to engage in acts of sodomy. No connection between family, marriage or procreation on the one hand, and homosexuality on the other, has been demonstrated. There is no fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy.
    No. Even if the conduct at issue here is not a fundamental right, Respondent asserts that there must be a rational basis for the law and that there is none in this case other than the majority electorate thinking that homosexual sodomy is immoral and unacceptable. The law is based on notions of morality and if all laws representing morality are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, it would flood the courts.

    Dissent. This case involves no real interference with the rights of others, for the mere knowledge that other individuals do not adhere to one’s value system cannot by a legally cognizable interest, let alone an interest that can justify invading the houses, hearts and minds of citizens who choose to live their lives differently.
    The proper constitutional analysis should address two questions. First, may a state totally prohibit the described conduct by means of a neutral law without exceptions? If not, may the state save the statute by announcing that it will only enforce the statute against homosexuals?
    Concurrence. To hold that homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside a millennia of moral teaching. There is nothing in the United States Constitution depriving a state of the power to enact the statute here.
    There is no fundamental right addressed in this case. However, the respondent may be protected by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Discussion. Here, the divided Court refuses to extend substantive due process claims to sexual conduct, thus, establishing that homosexuality is not a liberty interest.


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