Appellant: Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia
Appellee: Michael Hardwick
Appellant's Claim: That state laws making sodomy a criminal offense do not violate the constitutionally protected right to privacy.
Chief Lawyer for Appellant: Michael E. Hobs
Chief Lawyer for Appellee: Laurence Tribe
Justices for the Court: Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White
Justices Dissenting: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens
Date of Decision: June 30, 1986
Decision: The ruling upheld the Georgia law by reasoning that no fundamental right has been granted to homosexuals to engage in sodomy and, therefore, the law did not violate the right of privacy guaranteed under due process.
Significance: The decision left existing state sodomy laws intact. The ruling dealt a major setback to the gay and lesbian civil rights movement since their opponents could argue that granting civil rights to persons who regularly commit the criminal act of sodomy could not be justified.
In 1986 half a million gay men and lesbians marched in Washington, D. C. protesting the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), the Court's first ruling on gay rights. The decision upheld a Georgia law forbidding sodomy and was considered a major setback to the gay rights movement. Sodomy is sexual activity common among gays and lesbians. The terms gay and lesbian refer to people sexually attracted to persons of their same sex. The term gay usually refers to men and lesbian always refers to women. Homosexual is a term which refers to either gay men or lesbians.
Sodomy had long been considered a criminal offense in state and local law. Since criminal sodomy laws were aimed at homosexuals, gay men and lesbians kept their sexual orientation (the sexual preference of an individual for one sex or the other) a secret. This secret existence in which homosexuals found themselves was referred to as being "in the closet." Encouraged by successes of black Americans and women during the 1960s' Civil Rights Movement and outraged by an incident, known as Stonewall, at a New York bar in 1969, homosexuals began to "come out." This meant identifying themselves as gay or lesbians and openly working for legal and social equality. The gay rights movement made the repeal (to abolish) of sodomy laws a primary goal.
Michael Hardwick was a gay bartender living in Atlanta, Georgia. When Hardwick failed to pay a fine for drinking in public, a police officer came to his home to serve a warrant (a written order) against him. The officer gained entrance to the home by another tenant who did not know if Hardwick was home. The officer entered Hardwick's bedroom where he found him having sex with his partner. Hardwick was arrested and charged with committing sodomy with a consenting (willing) male.
Hardwick brought suit in Federal...