539 U.S. 558, argued 26 March 2003, decided 26 June 2003 by vote of 5-1-3; Kennedy for the Court, O’Connor concurring, Scalia authored the principal dissent, Thomas wrote a short separate dissent.
Striking down a Texas statute making it a crime for persons of the same sex to engage in intimate sexual conduct, the Court extended the federal right of privacy to same-sex partners and expressly overruled Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which had rejected a federal due process challenge by homosexuals to state statutes that criminalized acts of sodomy between consenting adults in private.
The majority opinion refuted the historical claim asserted in Bowers of a long American tradition of prohibiting same-sex sexual relations and relied instead on the decriminalization of sodomy in other countries (such as the United Kingdom in 1967, as well as comparable action by the European Court of Human Rights in 1981) as evidence that Western views about homosexuality had changed. Justice Anthony Kennedy also noted that the reaffirmation of the right of privacy in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), and the decision in Romer v. Evans (1996), undermined the precedential strength of Bowers.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did not join the Court in overruling Bowers. Rather, her concurrence argued that Texas's ban on same-sex, but not opposite-sex, sodomy indicated nothing other than the state's moral disapproval of homosexuals and that laws premised merely on moral disapproval fail the test of minimum rationality required under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent charged that “the court… has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda,” although insisting he has “nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means.” Nonetheless, he lamented that “the court has taken sides in the culture war.”
Justice Clarence Thomas's dissent said the Texas statute “is… uncommonly silly” and that he would vote to repeal it if a member of the Texas Legislature. However, finding no “general right of privacy” in the Constitution, he had no authority to invalidate the law as a judge.
State sodomy statutes are often a sign of general hostility toward homosexuals. Thus, their abolition in Lawrence may greatly expand the civil rights of gay people.