In the second controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling in one week, the court reversed a 1986 high court ruling upholding state anti-sodomy laws, in a 6-3 victory for gay rights advocates.
“The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the court’s majority opinion.
The ruling stemmed from the 1998 arrest of two Houston men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, under a 28-year old Texas law making same-sex intercourse a crime. The court found the law to violate the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
Gay rights advocates immediately lauded the decision while religious and political conservatives denounced it.
In a searing dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the court has “largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”
Other groups, however, supported the court’s ruling because the decision may be used to challenge other bans involving private conduct.
“Most people see this case as a case purely about homosexuality, but we didn’t look at it that way at all,” said Dana Berliner, a lawyer for the Institute For Justice, a libertarian group that filed a brief in support of the ruling.
“If the government can regulate private sexual behavior, it’s hard to imagine what the government couldn’t regulate,” Berliner added.
“People are going to do exactly what they want to do, regardless of set rules and especially if they’ve been doing it all along,” said Eastern Michigan University junior Vira Van Horn.”…That’s a privacy thing. I’m not saying I’m a supporter of that kind of activity, but as far as the law is concerned, people will continue to do what they want to do in the bedroom.”
Robert Knight, a spokesman for the conservative group Culture and Family Institute, said Thursday’s ruling would have “very real consequences.”
He warned that the ruling would destabilize the legal foundation of marriage, lead to more deaths among gay men from sexually transmitted diseases and lead to schoolchildren being taught “that homosexual sodomy is the same as marital sex.”
Even before the justices handed down their decision, the case led to controversy this week involving Sen. Rick Santorum, (R-Penn.), who said overturning the law could lead to legalized incest, bigamy and polygamy.
“Whenever I hear statements like that from people, I am always reminded of the struggle against ignorance and intolerance that we as a community need to continue to fight against. It shows me just how much more educating we need to do,” said Jeff Souva co-chair of the Michigan Student Assembly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Commission.
“I don’t see the arguments of certain government officials as a valid argument but I understand that others see same-sex intercourse as a vice,” said LSA junior Joel Weltman.
“That’s not to say that it doesn’t piss me off when someone in power can make statements like that,” he added.
He said the ruling is a significant step forward for the gay rights movement, although there is much to be done. “This law has the potential to empower people that are not yet empowered. The ruling has made a difference… in the future it will be helpful, but at this point we are still far behind,” he said.
As one of the 14 states in the nation that have a sodomy law, Michigan will be significantly impacted by the decision, said Sean Kosofsky, director of Policy at the Triangle Foundation.
“Our sodomy law in Michigan is the toughest in the nation,” Kosofsky said.
He added under Michigan’s law, sodomy violations were considered a 15-year felony for the first conviction, and life in jail for the second conviction. “It’s been used hundreds and hundreds of times in the past couple years,” he said, adding that the law was commonly used to deter adoption by gay parents.
“So it’s a very very exciting decision not only for privacy rights of all Americans but for equal protection for gays and lesbians,” Kosofsky said.