The Burger Court (1969–86)

Court Decisions

In what decision did the Court uphold a state sodomy law?

The Court ruled 5–4 in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) that Georgia’s antisodomy law was constitutional. Michael Hardwick, a gay man, had challenged the constitutionality of the law after police arrested him for violating the law. Though the prosecutor declined to press forward with the charges, Hardwick—with help from the American Civil Liberties Union—pursued a federal lawsuit against the law. The Court rejected Hardwick’s challenges, ruling that there was no fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy. Justice Byron White wrote in his majority opinion that the law was subject only to a rational basis challenge and the law furthered the state’s interests in upholding morality. He rejected the notion that because the law punishes sex acts between consenting adults in the privacy of homes, the law was invalid. He explained: “Plainly enough, otherwise illegal conduct is not always immunized whenever it occurs in the home. Victimless crimes, such as the possession and use of illegal drugs, do not escape the law when they are committed at home.” In his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Burger wrote: “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”

The Rehnquist Court later overruled Bowers v. Hardick in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).


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