In 1998, two men were arrested for engaging in consensual sex in
their home, after police entered on a false tip. Under
Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law, both men were convicted of
deviate sexual intercourse, which was also considered a crime in 13
other states.

In the case, Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled last June that such sodomy laws were invalid. Ruth Harlow was
lead counsel in the case.

Harlow is currently teaching a seminar at the University’s
Law School and spoke last night about her experience in
Lawrence.Harlow’s involvement in the struggle for gay
rights began in 1986 when the court upheld anti-sodomy laws in
Bowers v. Hardwick. Harlow, fresh out of law school,
recalled feeling as if she had been punched in the stomach upon
reading the verdict.

“How could they do this, not just to me as a lesbian but
to the society as a whole?” Harlow said.

For the next 18 years, Harlow dedicated her career to gay
rights, working as the legal director of Lambda Legal Education and
Defense Fund and as an associate director of the American Civil
Liberties Union Lesbian & Gay Rights and AIDS Projects.

Harlow emphasized the role of the gay community as the catalyst
of the social progress that ultimately led to the overturning of
Bowers. She said she believes real change starts with
interactions between friends and neighbors and continues on the
steps of the court.

“Our role as lawyers was to capture changes that had
already happened in society. … Society had already moved
past sodomy laws,” Harlow explained.

The case was a legal milestone in the ongoing debate over the
right to privacy.

One of the most controversial aspects of the ruling was that
both legally and socially it opened the door to a national
discourse on gay marriage.

“What I’ve noticed is a much more vibrant discussion
on campus, and a lot more interest in national events … a
sense that what’s happening in the (court) and in
Massachusetts has real-life effects for students,” said Law
student Madeleine Findley, a member of speakers committee of
OUTlaws, the Law School’s LGBT issues group.

Much of the audience was comprised of law students, many of whom
have been personally inspired by Harlow’s work.

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