20 years after Lawrence v. Texas: What really happened in the landmark case?

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Thursday, June 29, 2023
What Lawrence v. Texas case means 2 decades after it was decided
Hear from HCSO Deputy Joseph Quinn and LGBTQ+ activist Lane Lewis talk about the Lawrence v. Texas case 20 years after the Supreme Court decision.

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- This week marks 20 years since a landmark Supreme Court ruling expanded rights for same-sex couples.

Lawrence v. Texas stemmed from a case in Pasadena. When it was decided in 2003, it struck down sodomy laws in 14 states and made it criminal for states to criminalize sex between those of the same sex.

John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in 1998.

Harris County deputies responded to Lawrence's apartment after receiving a call about a man with a weapon.

Former HCSO Deputy Joseph Quinn was the first to arrive.

"There were two men in the bedroom engaged in sex on the bed," Quinn said. "And I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"

The weapons call turned out to be false, but the district attorney's office accepted a charge of homosexual conduct.

LGBTQ+ activist Lane Lewis was a bartender at the time. He heard about the arrests from his customers.

"A certain person did a certain thing, which caused a certain phone call, which caused it to go to a certain court where certain people knew who I was, and it was just the perfect storm in that regard. So there was a lot of luck," Lewis explained. "I knew immediately what it was potentially. My next plan of action was to wait until 9 o'clock, a reasonable time in the morning, to start calling these guys and try to get them."

"They did share that they were not actually having sex, and the sheriff's officers made this up," Mitchell Katine, a local attorney who took the case, said. "And, so, in order to challenge the law, the clients had to plead no contest, which means they would not challenge the facts. We would only be challenging the unconstitutional statute."

RELATED: Houston lawyer looks back on landmark Lawrence v. Texas case: My kids live 'in a much better world'

President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law this week, providing federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage for the first time.

"Why would I make any kind of story like that up?" Quinn asked. "You weren't there, so how can you judge me? You didn't see what was going on. You don't know. My personal opinion on what's right and what's wrong makes absolutely no difference. The law says this - that's what I have to go by. I'm not the judge or the jury."

The case was heard by several courts until it went to the Supreme Court.

Lawrence and Garner were suddenly all over newspapers and TV screens across the world.

"I said, 'John (Lawrence), I think this is a Supreme Court case. I think it will change the lives of millions. It will help create new laws to protect the lives of millions, but you need to know that when this story breaks, your name will be known. You and Tyron (Garner) will not be in the closet anymore,'" Lewis said. "These guys led extremely private lives. They had no cause, no desire for celebrity, and they never wavered."

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that states could no longer criminalize sexual conduct between people of the same sex.

Sodomy laws were struck down in Texas and 13 other states.

And on that same day in June 2015, the Supreme Court cited Lawrence v. Texas when legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Garner died in 2003, and Lawrence died in 2011.

Two unlikely activists, now heroes for a community.

"When I'm no longer here, this is my contribution to society, to love and relationships, to my kids," Katine said. "My kids are 20 years old. This decision is 20 years old."

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