Lawrence v. Texas

Studying the Lawrence v. Texas case, or interested in learning more? We break down the summary, brief, key players, facts and outcomes for you on TestMax.

Lawrence v. Texas Summary

The Court ruled in favor of Lawrence, a man who was arrested for engaging in consensual intercourse with another man in violation of Texas law. The Court held that laws prohibiting sexual intercourse between members of the same sex violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The concurring opinion noted that such laws also violate the Equal Protection Clause. The Court determined that such a limitation on the “right to liberty” that is included in the Due Process Clause must be based on a “legitimate state interest” in order to be valid and, in this case, it was not.

Key Players in Lawrence v. Texas

  • 1Appellants: John Lawrence, a weapons charge suspect, who was arrested for having sexual intercourse with another man in the privacy of his home.
  • 2Appellee: The state of Texas, which enacted a law making it illegal for people of the same sex to have sexual intercourse.

Lawrence v. Texas Brief

The central themes of this case are consensual same-sex intercourse, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause.

Lawrence v. Texas Facts

Police in Houston, Texas arrived at appellant Garner’s home in response to a report of a “weapons disturbance” and observed Garner engaging in sexual intercourse with another man. The police arrested Garner and the other man for violating a Texas statute that made it illegal for two people of the same sex to have sex. The statute prohibited specific sexual acts which were permitted for heterosexual couples. Garner was convicted but appealed his conviction based on the argument that the Texas law violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. The Texas Court of Appeals had ruled that the law did not violate the constitution and was consistent with the Due Process Clause.

The Lawrence v. Texas Decision

The Court held that the Texas law violated the Due Process Clause because it limits the “right to liberty” included in the Due Process Clause which gives Americans the “right to engage in private conduct without government intervention” and because the Texas law “furthers no legitimate state interest” in doing so.

The Court began its analysis by examining whether the Texas law restricted the appellants from exercising a liberty in a way that violated the Due Process Clause. It noted that the “liberty”, not recognized by the appellate court, at stake in this case is “the right to choose to enter into relationships in the confines of…[the home]…and still retain…dignity.” The Court recognized a trend towards courts conceptualizing same-sex intimacy as a liberty that would not be subject to punishment when carried out by “consenting adults acting in private”. It noted that there is no legitimate state interest in controlling “personal choice” as to sexual behavior. Any alleged immorality of such behavior, the Court concluded, does not justify enforcement of the law.

The Court noted that, historically, such laws as the law in Texas had been formulated to protect against “predatory acts” or other acts which are generally illegal. It noted that in this case, however, the law prohibited acts—consensual sexual behavior in private settings—which were associated with personal liberties. It stated that, as a result, enforcement of the law raised questions about violations of the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

The concurring opinion of Justice O’Connor stated that the Texas law violated the Equal Protection Clause, noting that any law that “inhibits personal relationships” must be subjected to a “rational basis review” before it is found to be unconstitutional. That is, O’Connor concluded that mere “moral disapproval” was not sufficient justification for discriminating against a group of people in the way that the Texas law did and that there would have to be a “legitimate state interest” underlying the law to justify it. O’Connor asserted that there was no “rational basis”—"no legitimate state interest”—for government intervention in personal relationships in the case of gay people. O’Connor also noted that the Texas law in question violated the Equal Protection Clause by “singling out” gay people for punishment, effectively subjecting them to a “lifelong penalty”.

Key Takeaways for Law Students

  • 1“Individual decisions concerning the intimacies of physical relationships, even when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of ‘liberty’ protected by due process.”
  • 2Laws prohibiting consensual sex between people of the same sex are unconstitutional because they limit a “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause and serve “no legitimate state interest”.
  • 3Laws prohibiting consensual sex between people of the same sex are unconstitutional because they single out a class of people for punishment in a way that denies those people equal protection under the law and because they serve “no legitimate state interest”.