Lawrence v. Texas – Case Brief Summary

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 156 L. Ed. 2d 508 (2003).


Houston police were dispatched to Lawrence’s (D) apartment in response to a reported weapons disturbance. The officers found Lawrence and Garner (D) engaged in a sexual act. Lawrence and Garner were charged and convicted under Texas law of “deviate sexual intercourse, namely anal sex, with a member of the same sex (man).” Lawrence and Garner challenged the statute as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Lawrence and Garner were each fined $200 and order to pay $141.25 in costs. The Court of Appeals considered defendants’ federal constitutional arguments under both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. After hearing the case en banc the court rejected the constitutional arguments and affirmed the convictions. The court held that Bowers v. Hardwick was controlling regarding the due process issue. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.


  • Does a statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violate the Due Process Clause?

Holding and Rule (Kennedy)

  • Yes. A statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause.

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The defendants are adults and their conduct was in private and consensual.

The right to privacy is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.

Roe v. Wade recognized the right of a woman to make certain fundamental decisions affecting her destiny and confirmed that the protection of liberty under the Due Process Clause has a substantive dimension of fundamental significance in defining the rights of the person. It is clear that in Bowers v. Hardwick this Court failed to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To declare the issue as one related to the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.


Reversed and remanded.

Concurring (O’Connor)

I do not join the Court in overruling Bowers but I agree that the Texas statute is an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Dissent (Scalia)

Nowhere does the Court’s opinion declare that homosexual sodomy is a “fundamental right” under the Due Process Clause; nor does it subject the Texas law to the standard of review that would be appropriate (strict scrutiny) if homosexual sodomy were a “fundamental right.” Thus, while overruling the outcome of Bowers, the Court leaves strangely untouched its central legal conclusion: “D would have us announce . . . a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy. This we are quite unwilling to do.” Instead the Court simply describes petitioners’ conduct as an exercise of their liberty and proceeds to apply an unheard-of form of rational-basis review that will have far-reaching implications beyond this case.

Dissent (Thomas)

If I were a member of the Texas Legislature I would vote to repeal this law. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources. But I am not empowered to help petitioners and others similarly situated. My duty is to decide cases agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States. I can find neither in the Bill of Rights nor any other part of the Constitution a general right of privacy, or as the Court terms it today, the liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

See Obergefell v. Hodges for a Supreme Court case which cited Lawrence v. Texas in holding that gay marriage is legal in every state.

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