Because Tyrone Garner and John Lawrence had the courage to challenge homophobic sodomy laws, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that love, sexuality and family play the same role in gay people’s lives as they do for everyone else.’
(New York, September 12, 2006) — Lambda Legal’s Executive Director, Kevin Cathcart, issued the following statement concerning the death of Tyrone Garner, one of the two plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s landmark U. S. Supreme Court victory, Lawrence and Garner v. Texas:
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to Tyrone’s family and friends and we join them in mourning his passing.
Because Tyrone Garner and John Lawrence had the courage to challenge homophobic sodomy laws, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that love, sexuality and family play the same role in gay people’s lives as they do for everyone else. That’s a colossal legacy and one for which his community will forever be thankful.”
On June 26, 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 with Justice O’Connor concurring with the majority that Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct” law was unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. The ruling effectively struck down the sodomy laws in every state that still had them — 13 in all. Sodomy laws criminalized oral and anal sex by consenting gay couples and in some states heterosexual couples. They were used almost exclusively to justify widespread discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
Lambda Legal represented John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner, who were arrested in Lawrence’s Houston home and jailed overnight after officers responding to a false police report found the men engaged in private, consensual sex. Once convicted, they were forced to pay fines and were considered sex offenders in several states before their landmark victory before the Unites States Supreme Court....
Defendant in landmark sodomy ruling was not motivated by politics
The key civil liberties victory for gays was 'fight against all odds'
By ZEKE MINAYA
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Tyrone Garner, whose arrest in violation of Texas sodomy laws led to a challenge before the Supreme Court and an eventual victory that struck down such statutes across the country, died after a lengthy illness, friends said Wednesday. He was 39.
Garner, who died Monday of meningitis in a Houston-area hospital, was openly gay but not politically active when he chose to fight his arrest in court, said his lawyer, Mitchell Katine. "He was very shy and did not like to speak publicly," Katine said. "But privately he was very happy to be part of the civil rights fight for gay and lesbian people."
One of the greatest civil liberties victories for gay Americans began with a petty grudge.
On Sept. 17, 1998, Garner was in the home of John Lawrence in defiance of the wishes of his partner at the time, Robert Eubanks. Eubanks called the Harris County Sheriff's Office and told authorities that a crazed gunman was in the house. "I think he was jealous," Garner said of Eubanks in a 2004 interview with the Houston Chronicle.
Two deputies arrived and found the door unlocked and Garner and Lawrence having sex. The pair was arrested and charged with "homosexual conduct," a misdemeanor that made it a crime for same-gender couples in Texas to have sex, even in private. They spent several hours in jail before posting $200 bond.
Lawrence and Garner were approached by Katine and the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Lawrence wanted to challenge the arrest, but Garner was initially reluctant. "I didn't think we'd win," Garner told the Chronicle. "I didn't enjoy being outed with my mugshot on TV. It was degrading to me." They pleaded no contest in criminal court and took their case to the state appellate level, where they lost. In 2002 their case landed before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"He decided to fight against all odds," Katine said of Garner. "We lost at every level in Texas, and the only place we won was the Supreme Court." The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Lawrence and Garner, deciding that the Texas law violated the Constitution's privacy guarantee. The decision also struck down the remaining similar laws that were still on the books in 13 states.
In the opinion for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government." [...]