This Day In History: June 26

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On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ sodomy laws, along with similar laws in 13 other states. The decision in Lawrence v. Texas is a landmark one, reaffirming the existence of a “right to privacy” that is not enumerated in the Constitution and effectively legalizing same-sex sexual activity in the United States.

Although enforced sporadically by the 21st century, laws against homosexual sex were ubiquitous in America as late as 1960, when every state had one. Over a dozen states still considered gay sex a crime in September of 1998, when police responded to reports of someone brandishing a gun in the Harris County, Texas apartment of John Lawrence. Upon entering the apartment, they discovered Lawrence having sex with another man and arrested him under Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law, which barred “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.”

Five years later, the Supreme Court heard the case. Lawyers for the State of Texas tried to draw a distinction between the privacy of “a marital bedroom” and the circumstances of the case, but the Court sided with Lawrence. In a 6-3 decision, it ruled that “The state cannot demean [anyone’s] existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” finding that the right to privacy that underpinned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision also covered sex among consenting adults. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, with Scalia writing that “The court has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda” and “taken sides in the culture war,” adding that he had “nothing against homosexuals.” Overnight, gay sex became legal in the United States, paving the way for further acceptance of homosexuality in the coming years.