Although books have shaped much of my political thinking, until recently I never did much reading about LGBTQ equality. My own reasoning made me an ally, so I wasn’t as well versed as I could have been. That’s why I never knew the full importance and the unlikely history of the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas — the landmark case that put sodomy laws on trial — until I picked up Dale Carpenter’s recently published history of the case, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (W. W. Norton, 2012).
Sodomy laws gave police leverage to harass members of the LGBTQ community.
Flagrant Conduct tells the story of two men who were arrested for what they didn’t even know was a crime. They could have paid fines to put the incident behind them quietly, but activists and legal counsel convinced them to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Although they were strangers to activism, the two men agreed to use their case to defeat an unfair law. Five years later, the two men and their attorneys won a high-stakes victory in a conservative Supreme Court.
The arrest of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner in Houston on September 17, 1998 — 14 years ago today — was the event that led to Lawrence v. Texas. That night, deputies responded to a 911 call reporting that a man was “going crazy with a gun” in Lawrence’s apartment. The deputies who arrived never encountered a man with a gun, but they arrested Lawrence and Garner for engaging in, as the offense report put it, “deviate sexual intercourse[,] namely anal sex.” The two men were charged with violating the state’s “Homosexual Conduct” law, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code. The law, which criminalized same-sex sexual intimacy, was put in place when Texas revised its sex laws in 1973, giving more sexual freedoms to heterosexuals but fewer to gays and lesbians. Continue reading