Activists rejoice over court's ruling

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 27 2003 12:00 AM ET

Gay men and lesbians reacted with relief and triumph Thursday after the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that banned gay sex acts even in private. Gay rights activists, who regarded the sodomy statute challenge as one of the most important legal cases in decades, said the high court's ruling will have a far-reaching impact in guaranteeing equal rights for gay people. "This is historic," said Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "There is not a gay person in this country who has not lived their entire life under the yoke of these laws existing somewhere."

The 6-3 decision came in a case brought by two men who in 1998 were charged with breaking Texas's Homosexual Conduct Law. They were jailed overnight and ordered to pay $200 fines after police, responding to a false complaint about an armed intruder, discovered them having sex in their bedroom. Though seldom enforced by police, the Texas law and similar provisions in a dozen other states are sometimes invoked by judges to deny gay people legal custody of their children, equal employment guarantees, and other civil rights.

"It absolutely signals an entirely changed landscape," Kendall said. "It's impossible to be considered a full and equal citizen if you're a criminal in 13 states." She added that the decision marks "a cultural change as much as a legal change."

That the high court's ruling came in June, the month traditionally reserved for gay pride celebrations across the country, makes the victory all the more sweet, advocates said. "Given previous rulings, it's extraordinary and it's inspiring that the court ruled that gays and lesbians be treated the same as their straight brothers and sisters, no better and no worse," said Charles Francis, founder of the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight organization that counts former president Gerald Ford and former senator Alan Simpson as honorary members. "Today's ruling is not a victory for gays nearly so much as a victory for the four words carved in stone on the courthouse: Equal Justice Under Law."

Gay rights groups from Alaska to Florida planned celebrations for later in the day.