LOS ANGELES - In an historic decision with wide ranging implications, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a Texas law that makes some kinds of sexual intimacy a crime, but only for gay people. The decision overrules the court's 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which was widely condemned for treating gay people as second-class citizens. It was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union as a major milestone in the fight for constitutional rights.

The ACLU, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Lawrence v. Garner, along with a broad array of groups including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, AFL-CIO, Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Alliance of Baptists, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Interfaith Alliance and the National Association of Social Workers.

'This is a tremendous victory for anyone who believes government has no business peering into the bedroom of consenting adults,' said Martha Matthews, Bohnett Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. 'The Court has finally stepped into the twenty-first century with this decision; sexual intimacy between adults, no matter what their sexual orientation, is not a crime and today the Court agreed with that assertion. This decision will make an extraordinary impact on our society and it is a huge step in the battle for equality for gays and lesbians throughout the country.'

In sweeping language, the Court said the Constitution protects the right of gay people to form intimate relationships and 'retain their dignity as free persons.' Gay people, the Court said, have the same right to 'define one's concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life,' that heterosexuals do. The Bowers decision, the Court said, 'demeans the lives of homosexual persons.'

Since 1986, lower courts have relied on Bowers v. Hardwick to take away or limit custody to gay parents and to uphold firing or refusing to hire gay people. Bowers has frequently been invoked in legislative debates as a reason not to protect gay people from discrimination.

In an eighteen page opinion, the Court held that the Texas law violates the fundamental right to privacy protected by the U.S. Constitution. The decision means that similar laws against sexual intimacy in the 12 other states that have them are also invalid. These include laws in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma that apply only to gay people as well as laws in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah, which make 'sodomy' a crime for heterosexual consenting adults as well as same-sex consenting adults.

'Justice Brandeis said over seventy-five years ago that the 'right to be let alone' is the right most valued by civilized people, and most Americans agree,' said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU's national office. 'This decision is all the more important because it comes at a time when the right to privacy is under one of the greatest assaults it has ever faced.'

The Court overruled its 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick in unusually strong terms. 'Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today,' the Court said. Bowers was an ACLU challenge to Georgia's 'sodomy' law, which applied to all couples. In Bowers, the Court held that the right to privacy did not invalidate Georgia's sodomy law.

Although Georgia's sodomy law applied to straight and gay couples, explained Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director for the ACLU's national office, 'the Court treated it as a case about the constitutionality of laws making same-sex intimacy a crime.' The lower courts, Shapiro said, 'understood Bowers to permit discrimination against gay people in criminal laws and in many other areas as well. This decision establishes that the state has no place in anybody's bedroom, straight or gay.'

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