Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas


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.

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Senate Owes it to Military to Bring up Defense Bill by Year End

While the clock is ticking for action on repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year, time remains for the Senate to act.  The U.S. Senate owes it to the military to bring up and pass the National Defense Authorization Act along with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before year’s end.

Today in a statement, HRC president Joe Solmonese said: “While some Senators will stop at nothing to put up procedural roadblocks, there remains time before the end of the year to strengthen our military by passing the defense bill with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal attached. The votes are there to allow for open service and now the only question is whether the political will also exists.”

Earlier today Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he believed the Senate should stay in session in order to finish work on the defense bill. In fact his spokesperson said: “Wanting to go home is not an acceptable excuse for failing to pass a bill that provides essential support for our troops and veterans and failing to take action that the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have called for.”

Senators of both parties need to ask themselves what excuses really matter if they believe that DADT has harmed our military and that repeal will not cause significant strains on the force.

In recent weeks, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well as Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have repeatedly expressed their desire that Congress act on DADT repeal before the end of this congressional session.

As Solmonese noted: “A failure of Congress to act now will tie the hands of military leaders who have asked for the power to implement a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The time for repeal is now.”

For out part, HRC field staffers remain in targeted states encouraging grassroots pressure on key Senators. This week, we’ll also launch an action alert to its members and supporters, adding to the 11.5 million take action e-mails sent on this issue, which generated over 550,000 e-mails urging repeal to members of Congress. HRC has also gathered nearly 50,000 pro-repeal handwritten communications to Congress and conducted more than 1,000 grassroots lobby visits. The organization is also engaged in an aggressive letters to the editor campaign and facilitating calls from veteran supporters of repeal direct to Senate offices.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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