Supreme Court Sodomy Cases Rulings Essay

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Right to Privacy and Consenting Adults: Examining the Sodomy Cases

The 1986 case of Bowers v. Hardwick represents the continued legacy of homophobia of the era. This case demonstrates how homophobia has amounted to longstanding oppression for gay people, and has continually thwarted justice from protecting them or ever serving them. Michael Hardwick was in his late 20s when he was bartending at a gay bar in Georgia. He threw a beer bottle into an outdoor trash can and was written up by the police for public drinking (Bazelon, 2012). The terms of this citation come under suspicion as its possible that the police officer who wrote the ticket was just targeting him because he knew he was gay and worked at a local gay bar. The details of this citation of extremely dubious. The police officer that wrote the wrong day on the citation, ensuring that Hardwick would not show up as a result. This meant that a warrant for Hardwick’s arrest was issued (Eskridge, 2008). An officer arrived at Hardwick’s apartment to deliver the warrant; a person who had been sleeping on the living room couch asserted that they weren’t sure if Hardwick was home. This caused the officer to search the apartment, and he soon found Hardwick in the bedroom, having oral sex with a man: both men were immediately arrested in the name of sodomy (Bazelon, 2012).

In the 1980s Georgia still defined oral or anal sex between people—be them heterosexuals or homosexuals. This was actually not uncommon at the time, as other states had official laws in place: “…but none really enforced them against consenting adults who were acting in private. In fact, the county prosecutor dropped the charges against Hardwick” (Bazelon, 2012). This official dropping of charges was what most people expected at the time. Many of the laws that were officially on the books and intolerant and unjust weren’t actually enforced. Many people presumably viewed them as relics from another time, and while latent homophobia probably stopped people from wanting to change them, they were passively unenforced.

In the case of Hardwick, things became more complex, as the gay rights movement had wanted an opportunity to officially spar with the constitutionality of the sodomy legislation. Leaders of the gay rights movement encouraged Hardwick to sue and he did (Bazelon, 2012). However, the ultimate ruling in this case showed that homophobia ruled the day and still permeated within this highest realm of the judicial system, poisoning the judgment that was handed off (Eskridge, 2008).
As stated earlier, the district court dismissed Hardwick’s case, without even needing a trial. Hardwick then won an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, as this panel of judges determined that his innate right to privacy had been sullied (Bazelon, 2012). This ruling was founded in another earlier ruling regarding the individual’s right to privacy and intimate acts. In 1965 the Supreme Court had determined in the case Griswold v. Connecticut, that the state could not block married couples from employing birth control while in the seclusion of their own homes (Bazelon, 2012). To a modern audience, this seems obvious and almost ludicrous that something of this nature would have to go before the official court. However, this serves to demonstrate some of the issues of the era, and the lack of evolution of human thought, along with the general lack of empathy for others. This stunted mentality of human development, justice and tolerance, poisoned Hardwick’s case when it was brought before the Supreme Court, were it was not presented in terms of privacy or other indelible civil rights. Justice Byron White asserted, “The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy” (Bazelon, 2012). The answer turned out to be one of the Supreme Court’s most shameful decisions, and a clear representation that justice had not been served. The Court essentially ruled that homosexuals did not have a fundamental right to engage in sodomy. This decision was clearly representative of the fact that the toxic beliefs that characterized homophobia were still alive and well in the eyes of the Court. This was no doubt reflective of a certain portion of society. While this ruling did occur in the mid-1980s (and not say the more archaic periods of the court that characterized the 1950s), it still clearly demonstrates that to think that homosexuals don’t have a right to express themselves in acts of intimacy, was popular in the era. The rulings of the Supreme Court generally express a certain portion of the overall population, one could argue, looking at history.

In this case, the Supreme Court decided to rule with the more antiquated and bigoted viewpoint of the day. White reached his conclusion….....

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References

Bazelon, E. (2012, October 19). Why Advancing Gay Rights is All About Good Timing. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/supreme_court_dispatches/2012/10/the_supreme_court_s_terrible_decision_in_bowers_v_hardwick_was_a_product.html

Bowers v. Hardwick. (1986). FindLaw\'s United States Supreme Court case and opinions. Retrieved from https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/478/186.html

Eskridge, W. N. (2008). Dishonorable passions: Sodomy laws in America, 1861 - 2003. New York [u.a.: Viking.

HRW.org. (2009, March 17). Lawrence v. Texas. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2003/07/01/lawrence-v-texas

Lawrence.v Texas. (2003). Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/539/558/case.html
 

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