Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

Bill would remove sodomy law from Texas books eight years after it was ruled unconstitutional

Rep. Jessica Farrar

It’s been almost eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law as unconstitutional in a landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. But the law itself, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, remains on the books. Bills have been introduced in every legislative session since then seeking to repeal the statute, but needless to say they’ve never passed. (Remember, the state GOP platform actually calls for the re-criminalization of sodomy.) This year, the 21.06 repeal bill has been introduced by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. Farrar’s HB 604, which was introduced today, would not only repeal 21.06, but also strike related anti-gay language from the Health and Safety Code. With a Republican supermajority in the Texas House, the bill is likely doomed again. At the very least, though, it should serve as a sobering reminder. Here’s 21.06, which Farrar’s bill seeks to repeal:

Sec. 21.06.  HOMOSEXUAL CONDUCT.

(a)  A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.

(b)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

And here’s the language from the Health & Safety Code that Farrar’s bill would strike:

SECTION 2. Section 85.007(b), Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

(b) The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must: …

(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

SECTION 3. Section 163.002, Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 163.002. INSTRUCTIONAL ELEMENTS. Course materials and instruction relating to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases should include: …

(8) emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a
public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle
acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a
criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

Read the full bill by going here.

—  John Wright