1986 June 30

Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Sodomy Laws


In Bowers v. Hardwick, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults when applied to homosexuals. See August 3, 1982, for Michael Hardwick’s arrest while he was in bed.

In 1990, Justice Lewis Powell announced that his decision to uphold the law was a mistake. The Court reversed itself in Lawrence v. Texas, decided on June 26, 2003, declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional.

Justice Byron White for the Court: “The law, however, is constantly based on notions of morality, and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, the courts will be very busy indeed.”

Justice Harry Blackmun dissenting: “This case is no more about ‘a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy,’ as the Court purports to declare than Stanley v. Georgia was about a fundamental right to watch obscene movies, or Katz v. United States  was about a fundamental right to place interstate bets from a telephone booth. Rather, this case is about ‘the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,’ namely, ‘the right to be let alone.’ Olmstead v. United States, Justice Brandeis, dissenting on June 4, 1928).”

Read: David A. J. Richards, The Sodomy Cases: Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas (2009)

Listen to the oral arguments in the case: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_85_140

Read: Dale Carpenter,  Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans (2012)

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