By a 6-3 vote, the high court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law. In some ways, the Supreme Court was just catching up to public opinion. In 1986, in Bowers v. Hardwick, a decision that lived in infamy among gays in America, the court had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law. At the time, 25 states had such laws. Some 17 years later, only four states banned sodomy between homosexuals (an additional nine states had laws, on the books but rarely enforced, barring sodomy between any sexual partners).
What stunned court watchers—and what promises to change forever the status of homosexuals in America—was the far reach of the court’s reasoning. Gays “are entitled to respect for their private lives,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, reading from his majority opinion from the high court’s mahogany bench.
Under the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, Kennedy ruled, gays were entitled to a right of privacy. “The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” said Kennedy. In the crowded courtroom, some of the gay activists and lawyers silently but visibly wept as they listened.
Justice Kennedy’s ruling in the Lawrence case “may be one of the two most important opinions of the last 100 years,” says David Garrow, legal scholar at Emory University and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr.