Most states outlawed homosexual acts for many years through the application of sodomy laws. The repeal of these sodomy laws as they applied to homosexual acts became a focal point for gay and lesbian rights groups, much like the right to an abortion has been a focal point for women’s rights groups. In the case of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), however, the Court explicitly refused to recognize that the Constitution “would extend a fundamental right to homosexuals to engage in acts of consensual sodomy.”

Critics argued that the Court misconstrued the basic rights at issue in Bowers, saying that the case was really about the right to be left alone rather than the right to engage in homosexual conduct (the case arose after police arrested a man engaged in a sex act in his own house). Seventeen years after the decision in Bowers, the Court reconsidered its position, and in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), it declared that sodomy laws were indeed unconstitutional. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”

Inside Sodomy