John G. Lawrence is dead. He is the man who gave his name to “Lawrence v. Texas,”
the case before the Supreme Court decided June 26, 2003 that invalidated all sodomy laws in the US. Lawrence was in his bedroom with another man, Tyrone Garner, having sex, when local police came in and arrested them for committing sodomy. Twice Lawrence and Garner were tried, and each time they sought to have the charges dismissed, claiming their constitutional rights under equal protection of the laws and substantive due process were being denied. Local courts disagreed and found them guilty. Appeals courts overturned their convictions, after which the State Supreme Court reversed the Appeals Court and reinstated their convictions. The US Supreme Court then took possession of the case, and, on June 26, 2003, issued their decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which voided the Texas sodomy law and all the other sodomy laws throughout the country and also overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, So now, we remember John Lawrence, who didn’t need to allow his case to be appealed to the Supreme Court and therefore didn’t need to get the kind of publicity in a conservative state that he got, putting himself in danger. But he did agree to have his case appealed to the Supreme Court and to run the danger that implied, and as a consequence, the nation is different now, and every time gay rights in the US are analyzed, historians and the rest of us speak of John Lawrence.
This is an extremely important case for gay people, and if you don’t know about it, begin by clicking on the link above and reading what Ari Ezra Waldman, the legal scholar in residence at Towleroad, has to say about it. Then read about it everywhere. Many people say we wouldn’t have gay marriage anywhere if there hadn’t been a Lawrence v. Texas, and we wouldn’t have repealed DADT if we hadn’t had Lawrence v. Texas. So, in your personal list of heroic men and women of the gay community, please add the name of John G. Lawrence, and remember his courage.