HOUSTON – The Texas man whose case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted privacy rights to gay men and lesbians has died at age 68.
John G. Lawrence died in Houston on Nov. 20, according to Sarah Wilson of R.S. Farmer Funeral Home in Silsbee, Texas. Lawrence died of a heart condition, his partner, Jose Garcia, told the Houston Chronicle.
Mitchell Katine, a Houston attorney who represented Lawrence in the case Lawrence vs. Texas, told the newspaper he learned of his client’s death Saturday while trying to invite him to an April celebration of the 2003 ruling.
The case began in 1998 when a neighbor with a grudge faked a distress call to police, telling them that a man was “going crazy” in Lawrence’s apartment just outside Houston. Police went to the home, pushed open the door and found Lawrence and Tyrone Garner having sex. Both paid $200 fines after spending several hours in the county jail for alleged violation of the state sodomy statute, a misdemeanor.
Katine said Lawrence did not view himself as an activist.
“He was angry at how he was treated, both physically and personally,” he told the Chronicle. “He was taken to jail in the middle of the night in his underwear.”
The Associated Press left a phone message Monday evening at Katine’s law office, and Garcia’s phone number was unlisted.
At the time of the Lawrence ruling, gay rights advocates called it the most important legal advance ever for gay people in the United States. Since then, gay rights have advanced nationwide. Gay marriage is now allowed in some states and Washington, D.C., and the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay’s from serving openly took effect in September.
“This ruling lets us get on with our lives and it opens the door for gay people all over the country,” Lawrence said at the time. Garner died of meningitis in 2006.
In an opinion for the court majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the two men “are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”
The U.S. Constitution’s framers “knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” Kennedy wrote.