Michael Hardwick is arrested for "sodomy" after a police officer observes him having sex with another man in his own bedroom in Georgia. Although the district attorney eventually dropped the charges, Hardwick decided to challenge the constitutionality of Georgia’s law.
“John and Mary Doe,” who joined in Hardwick’s suit against Michael Bowers, the attorney general of Georgia, maintained that the Georgia law “chilled and deterred” them from engaging in certain types of sex in their home. But in 1986, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, ruling by a 5-4 vote that states could continue to treat certain types of consensual sex as criminal acts.
Apparently, Justice Byron White had characterized the issue not as the right to privacy in one’s own bedroom, but rather as the right to engage in anal sex. Viewed in this narrow manner, it was no surprise that he was unable to find such a clause in the Constitution. Justice Lewis Powell, who also voted to uphold the law, later called his vote a mistake.
In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas law under which two men had been arrested for having consensual sex at home. The 6-3 Lawrence v. Texas decision reversed the infamous 1986 Bowers decision and finally dealt a death blow to sodomy laws throughout the country.
In his concurrence to the Supreme Court’s June 2022 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (which overturned Roe v. Wade), Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider its decision in Lawrence.
READ MORE: The Supreme Court Rulings That Have Shaped Gay Rights in America