<% IssueDate = "6/27/03" IssueCategory = "Events" %> GayToday.com - Top Story
Top Story
U.S. Supreme Court Victory
Opens Doors to Complete Equality

Court Expunges Laws that Criminalize Same-Sex Love-Making

Celebrations Planned in USA Tonight-Thursday -- in 36 Cities

Compiled by GayToday

Washington, D.C.-"Caloo calllay. Oh frabjous day. The Supreme Court has gone all the way!" exulted Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, America's undisputed father of gay militancy. A U.S. government astronomer in the 1950s, Dr. Kameny had been the first gay American to challenge his dismissal by government bureaucrats who suspected he was gay. When the Court decided in early 1961 to ignore his challenge, he founded, along with GayToday's editor and a few others, the nation's first civil rights, direct action gay and lesbian organization, The Mattachine Society of Washington.

In the wake of today's historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that has overturned the nation's laws criminalizing private, consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex, Dr. Kameny celebrated for GayToday over forty years during which he'd been waiting for today's Supreme Court decision. He said:

"The effort to repeal the anti-Sodomy laws, which started off softly and quietly in 1961, in Illinois, concluded today in a blaze of glory with the final overturn of all the remaining such laws by the U. S. Supreme Court, providing a major step in moving American gays into their deserved status of complete equality in all phases of life, and in their achievement of that defining, inalienable American right to the pursuit of happiness."

"This is the most important victory for the gay rights movement in thirty years," according to Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis (Harcourt), a history of gay life in America since 1940.
Dr. Frank Kameny

"In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Now the Supreme Court has finally expunged the laws that made gay love-making a crime."

Charles Kaiser, Historian Kaiser said it was especially appropriate that the decision was issued just two days before the 34th anniversary of the first Stonewall Riot in Manhattan, which started the modern struggle for gay civil rights

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which argued the case on behalf of all who are involved in same-sex relationships, called the Court's decision "the most significant ruling ever for lesbian and gay Americans civil rights." The Texas law struck down had criminalized oral and anal sex by consenting gay couples and in Texas and elsewhere has, for many years, been used widely to justify discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

"Today the U.S. Supreme Court closed the door on an era of intolerance and ushered in a new era of respect and equal treatment for gay Americans," said Ruth Harlow, Legal Director at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund and lead counsel on the case. "This historic civil rights victory recognizes that love, sexuality and family play the same role in gay people's lives as they do for everyone else."

Lambda Legal represented John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested in Lawrence's Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false report from an acquaintance found the men engaged in private, consensual sex. Once convicted, they were forced to pay fines and are now considered sex offenders in several states. In addition to Texas, 12 states have consensual sodomy laws, some of which apply to straight and gay adults alike, but are invoked only against lesbians and gay men in everyday life.

Victorious plaintiffs Tyron Garner and John Lawrence "This ruling effectively strikes down the sodomy laws in every state that still has them -- but its impact is even broader. It will be a powerful tool for gay people in all 50 states where we continue fighting to be treated equally." Harlow said. "For decades, these laws have been a major roadblock to equality. They've labeled the entire gay community as criminals and second-class citizens. Today, the Supreme Court ended that once and for all."

The Supreme Court heard two constitutional issues in Lambda Legal's case - whether the Texas law violates the Constitution's right to privacy, and also whether it violates the Constitution's guarantee that all Americans will be treated equally under the law. Today's ruling focused on the first argument. Lambda Legal said today's ruling effectively strikes down all 13 state sodomy laws as they apply to private, consensual intimacy and also establishes, for the first time, that lesbians and gay men have fundamental privacy rights.

Today's decision overturns the Supreme Court's devastating 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick. In that decision - which was laced with anti-gay language and has been used against gay people in most civil rights cases since -- the court upheld Georgia's sodomy law in a case brought by a man who was arrested while having consensual sex in his home with another man.

"Today, the Supreme Court corrected one of its gravest mistakes. This ruling removes the terrible shadow cast over the gay community by the Supreme Court's destructive and misguided decision 17 years ago," Harlow said. "Today's decision shows how far the gay community has come since 1986."

"In addition to its great significance today, this ruling will be an important precedent for future cases as we push for full liberty and full equality in every aspect of gay people's lives," Harlow said. "This ruling starts an entirely new chapter in our fight for equality for lesbians and gay men."

Bob Kunst, an indefatigable Florida-based activist who, in 1977 made the religious zealot, Anita Bryant, look unalterably foolish during a national television debate, expressed his satisfaction about the ruling to GayToday. He said:

"Today the Supreme Court cleared the path to open the door to all those others issues as well where gays are treated as second-class…Today is a monumental day for freedom for all of America, and a huge setback to the anti-gay bigots. For the first time we who are gay are constitutionally protected and this opens the door to protections on every level."

Kunst also said: "George W. Bush must also be seen as taking a beating as a result of this decision. Why? Because it was Bush who supported Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's recent outburst of anti-gay bigotry over this Supreme Court decision, calling him 'inclusive.'
Activist Bob Kunst

"This is a great day in the history of the American people's struggle to make liberty and justice for all a reality," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas.

"The Supreme Court has recognized what most Americans regard as common sense - the government has no place regulating private sexual behavior between consenting adults. And the Court has recognized as law what most Americans see as basic fairness: being gay should not mean being a second-class citizen. This decision has not eliminated all the barriers to full equality for gay Americans, but it takes a major step towards dismantling those barriers."

Attorneys who assisted in arguing the case toward its favorable conclusion were, in addition to Ruth Harlow, Lambda Legal attorneys Patricia Logue and Susan Sommer, along with Brian Chase in Lambda Legal's Dallas office, litigated the case. William M. Hohengarten, Paul M. Smith, Daniel Mach and Sharon McGowan from Jenner & Block, LLC in Washington, D.C., and Mitchell Katine from Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, L.L.P. in Houston, are Lambda Legal's cooperating attorneys assisting on the case.

Except for the protests around the death of Matthew Shepard, never before in the history of the gay movement have so many cities organized in so short of a time to do events around an issue. The 36 cities holding celebratory rallies tonight include Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charleston-SC, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia-MO, Columbia-SC, Dallas, Detroit, Fairbanks, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston-TX, Greenville-SC, Houston, Kansas City-MO, Lawrence-KS, Los Angeles/West Hollywood-CA, Madison-WI, Miami, Milwaukee, Myrtle Beach-SC, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Palm Springs-CA, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond-VA, St. Louis-MO, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Springfield-MO, Tucson, and Washington, DC.

Activists organizing the rallies say the events are critical to making sure the positive decisions of the Court are actually implemented. "We will take this pro-gay decision as the foot in the door with which we'll fight for our full equal rights - equal marriage rights as they have in Canada, equal employment rights in every state, equal access to health care, housing - total equality under the law," said Robin Tyler, a national co-coordinator of the celebrations. "We will take this victory and remain active in the streets to make sure the Court's ruling doesn't remain just a piece of paper."

Activists point to the lessons of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas as a cautionary tale on what comes next. "In '54 we had a brilliant decision, but it remained a dead letter because the racists in all levels of government stymied it," said Andy Thayer, another co-coordinator of the national protests. "It was not the Court's decision which ultimately forced the desegregation of the nation's schools, it was the courageous activists in the Civil Rights Movement who began forcing the implementation of that decision in the early 1960s as their movement gained strength. We will not remain complacent in the face of today's victory. If anything, our work has just begun."

Besides being "one of the most important cases in the history of civil rights for lesbian and gay Americans," according to the San Francisco Chronicle, activists are gratified that today's decision goes beyond protecting the rights of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered people. "By striking down the Texas law on privacy grounds, the court has also provided an important buttress to pro-choice rights, which are increasingly under threat by the fundamentalist right," said Tyler.
Celebration in 36 Cities: www.CABN.org/DefendOurRights
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