Texas' same-sex sodomy law prohibits oral or anal sex between gays and lesbians, but has allowed identical sexual conduct between heterosexuals since 1973. The state law will be tested this spring when the Supreme Court hears the case of two Houston men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. The men were having sex in Lawrence's home when Houston police, responding to a false report, mistakenly invaded their house. Although the cops had wrongly entered the man's' home, they opted to charge Lawrence and Garner under Texas' same-sex sodomy law. The men were jailed overnight, convicted, paid small fines, and have been required to register as sex offenders in several states.

(In many states, including Texas, if you commit a crime of "moral turpitude," such as violating the same-sex sodomy law, you can be restricted from holding certain professional licenses, such as doctor, athletic trainer, bingo hall licensee, or interior designer.)

Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates for the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, and people with AIDS, is representing Lawrence and Garner; Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal will argue the case for the state. He could not be reached for comment.

The Houston case has prompted the Supreme Court to revisit the issue of gay and lesbian rights. In a 1986 Georgia case, a divided Supreme Court decided 5-4 that gays and lesbians do not have a fundamental right to privacy and upheld the state's sodomy law. But in the past 16 years, "A lot has changed in our culture," said Susan Sommer, Lambda's supervising attorney in the Houston case. "There is a deeper and more informed understanding that they form the same bonds of attachment as everyone else, and that these laws intrude on their private lives."

Since the 1986 decision, Lambda has successfully overturned sodomy laws in the state courts including Montana, Tennessee, Arkansas - and Georgia.

If the Supreme Court finds for the Houston men, the law will set an enormous precedent for gay and lesbian's fundamental right to privacy and equal protection under the law, Sommer explained. All sodomy laws governing private, consensual sex - between heterosexuals and gays and lesbians - will be eliminated.

Since colonial days, states that entered the union prohibited sodomy, based on puritanical religious beliefs. In the 1960s, attitudes toward private, adult sexuality loosened, and states repealed many of their laws through their legislature or courts. Texas repealed its general sodomy provision, but in 1973, adopted the homosexual conduct law. "It singles out and targets the state's gay citizens for badges of criminal behavior while leaving free the state's heterosexuals to engage in identical conduct," Sommer said.

In addition to Texas, three states - Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma - and Puerto Rico still have consensual homosexual sodomy laws on their books. Nine states extend that restriction to heterosexual couples, although the laws are usually applied only to gays and lesbians: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Utah. Penalties range from fines to 20 years in prison.

So unless the Supreme Court decides to abolish Texas' same-sex sodomy law, Mary Cheney and her lover had better stay on the Arkansas side of the border. Rick Perry would prefer it that way.



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