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2 Texas men fined for having sex in private home

protesters
Outside the Texas courthouse, people support anti-sodomy law  
November 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EST (0443 GMT)

HOUSTON (CNN) -- Two Texas men arrested for having sex in a private home pleaded no contest to sodomy charges Friday, setting in motion a court challenge to a state law criminalizing gay and lesbian sexual conduct.

John Geddes Lawrence, 55, and Tyrone Garner, 31, were fined $125 by Justice of the Peace Mike Parrot. They immediately appealed the case to state district court in hopes that Texas' sodomy law will eventually be found unconstitutional.

"I hope we get the law changed. I feel like my civil rights (were) violated, and I wasn't doing anything wrong," Garner said.

"It was sort of Gestapo," said Lawrence.

In September, sheriff's deputies -- responding to what turned out to be a false report of an armed man inside Lawrence's home -- arrested the two men under a Texas law that makes homosexual oral and anal sex a misdemeanor. They spent a night in jail.

The law, which has been on the books for more than a century, is rarely enforced. Gay activists have worked unsuccessfully for years to have it repealed.

Prosecutor Brett Ligon, who handled the case against Lawrence and Garner, said prosecutors have an obligation to enforce the law as long as it remains on the books.

But Suzanne Goldberg, an attorney with the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing the men, called Texas' sodomy law an "outrageous intrusion" into the private lives of gay men and lesbians.

"The government should not be in the business of policing the private consensual sexual relations of people," she said, adding that the case would be appealed on the grounds that the law violates both the state and federal constitutions.

Texas is one of five states that made oral and anal sex a crime for gay men and lesbians but not for heterosexuals. Another 14 states have sodomy laws equally applicable to both groups. In two of those states, Georgia and Virginia, sodomy violations can carry up to a 20-year jail sentence.

Since 1962, 25 states have repealed their sodomy laws, and state courts have struck them down in six other states.

In 1986, by a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy law, ruling that it did not violate the federal constitution.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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