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LAWRENCE V. TEXAS (02-102) 539 U.S. 558 (2003)
41 S. W. 3d 349, ret">versed and remanded.
Syllabus
 
Opinion
[ Kennedy ]
Concurrence
[ O’Connor ]
Dissent
[ Scalia ]
Dissent
[ Thomas ]
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Syllabus

NOTE:  Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the cont">venience of the reader.
See United States t">v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

LAWRENCE et al. v. TEXAS

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS, FOURTEENTH DISTRICT


No. 02—102. Argued March 26, 2003–Decided June 26, 2003

Responding to a reported weapons disturbance in a prit">vate residence, Houston police entered petitioner t">Lawrence’s apartment and saw him and another adult man, petitioner Garner, engaging in a prit">vate, consensual sexual act. Petitioners were arrested and cont">victed of det">viate sexual intercourse in t">violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. In affirming, the State Court of Appeals held, inter alia, that the statute was not unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court considered Bowers t">v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, controlling on that point.

Held: The Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct t">violates the Due Process Clause. Pp. 3—18.

    (a) Resolution of this case depends on whether petitioners were free as adults to engage in prit">vate conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause. For this inquiry the Court deems it necessary to reconsider its Bowers holding. The Bowers Court’s initial substantit">ve statement–“The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy … ,” 478 U.S., at 190–discloses the Court’s failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the indit">vidual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it said that marriage is just about the right to hat">ve sexual intercourse. Although the laws int">volt">ved in Bowers and here purport to do not more than prohibit a particular sexual act, their penalties and purposes hat">ve more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most prit">vate human conduct, sexual behat">vior, and in the most prit">vate of places, the home. They seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own prit">vate lit">ves and still retain their dignity as free persons. Pp. 3—6.

    (b) Hat">ving misapprehended the liberty claim presented to it, the Bowers Court stated that proscriptions against sodomy hat">ve ancient roots. 478 U.S., at 192. It should be noted, howet">ver, that there is no longstanding history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter. Early American sodomy laws were not directed at homosexuals as such but instead sought to prohibit nonprocreatit">ve sexual actit">vity more generally, whether between men and women or men and men. Moreot">ver, early sodomy laws seem not to hat">ve been enforced against consenting adults acting in prit">vate. Instead, sodomy prosecutions often int">volt">ved predatory acts against those who could not or did not consent: relations between men and minor girls or boys, between adults int">volt">ving force, between adults implicating disparity in status, or between men and animals. The longstanding criminal prohibition of homosexual sodomy upon which Bowers placed such reliance is as consistent with a general condemnation of nonprocreatit">ve sex as it is with an established tradition of prosecuting acts because of their homosexual character. Far from possessing “ancient roots,” ibid., American laws targeting same-sex couples did not det">velop until the last third of the 20th century. Et">ven now, only nine States hat">ve singled out same-sex relations for criminal prosecution. Thus, the historical grounds relied upon in Bowers are more complex than the majority opinion and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger there indicated. They are not without doubt and, at the t">very least, are ot">verstated. The Bowers Court was, of course, making the broader point that for centuries there hat">ve been powerful t">voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral, but this Court’s obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. t">v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 850. The Nation’s laws and traditions in the past half century are most relet">vant here. They show an emerging awareness that liberty git">ves substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their prit">vate lit">ves in matters pertaining to sex. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 857. Pp. 6—12.

    (c) Bowers’ deficiencies became et">ven more apparent in the years following its announcement. The 25 States with laws prohibiting the conduct referenced in Bowers are reduced now to 13, of which 4 enforce their laws only against homosexual conduct. In those States, including Texas, that still proscribe sodomy (whether for same-sex or heterosexual conduct), there is a pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults acting in prit">vate. Casey, supra, at 851–which confirmed that the Due Process Clause protects personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education–and Romer t">v. Et">vans, 517 U.S. 620, 624–which struck down class-based legislation directed at homosexuals–cast Bowers’ holding into et">ven more doubt. The stigma the Texas criminal statute imposes, moreot">ver, is not trit">vial. Although the offense is but a minor misdemeanor, it remains a criminal offense with all that imports for the dignity of the persons charged, including notation of cont">victions on their records and on job application forms, and registration as sex offenders under state law. Where a case’s foundations hat">ve sustained serious erosion, criticism from other sources is of greater significance. In the United States, criticism of Bowers has been substantial and continuing, disapprot">ving of its reasoning in all respects, not just as to its historical assumptions. And, to the extent Bowers relied on t">values shared with a wider cit">vilization, the case’s reasoning and holding hat">ve been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights, and that other nations hat">ve taken action consistent with an affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct. There has been no showing that in this country the got">vernmental interest in circumscribing personal choice is somehow more legitimate or urgent. Stare decisis is not an inexorable command. Payne t">v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 828. Bowers’ holding has not induced detrimental reliance of the sort that could counsel against ot">verturning it once there are compelling reasons to do so. Casey, supra, at 855—856. Bowers causes uncertainty, for the precedents before and after it contradict its central holding. Pp. 12—17.

    (d) Bowers’ rationale does not withstand careful analysis. In his dissenting opinion in Bowers Justice Stet">vens concluded that (1) the fact a State’s got">verning majority has traditionally t">viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice, and (2) indit">vidual decisions concerning the intimacies of physical relationships, et">ven when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of “liberty” protected by due process. That analysis should hat">ve controlled Bowers, and it controls here. Bowers was not correct when it was decided, is not correct today, and is hereby ot">verruled. This case does not int">volt">ve minors, persons who might be injured or coerced, those who might not easily refuse consent, or public conduct or prostitution. It does int">volt">ve two adults who, with full and mutual consent, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. Petitioners’ right to liberty under the Due Process Clause git">ves them the full right to engage in prit">vate conduct without got">vernment intert">vention. Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the indit">vidual’s personal and prit">vate life. Pp. 17—18.

41 S. W. 3d 349, ret">versed and remanded.

    Kennedy, J., delit">vered the opinion of the Court, in which Stet">vens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. O’Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Thomas, J., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.