Noted lawyer Dale Carpenter to discuss critical human rights case that halted decades of 'legal' discrimination against gay Americans.

Lawrence v. Texas now a landmark decision by Supreme Court

by Pamela Young, Published September 11, 2012

When a false police report involving two gay men was filed in Texas, little did the participants know that their arrest in 1998 for sodomy would become a national issue, reaching the United States Supreme Court, where its decision in "Lawrence v. Texas" changed gay rights in the U.S.

Former Houston attorney Dale Carpenter will offer insights into the decision's history and ramifications during his presentation, "The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans," Tuesday, Sept. 18, 3:30 p.m., in Eastern Michigan University's Student Center auditorium.

Carpenter currently is the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Right and Civil Liberties at the University of Minnesota Law School. The event is free and open to the public.

Dale Carpenter

His book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, examines the history of the case up until 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled Texas' sodomy law was unconstitutional. The decision also invalidated, by extension, sodomy in the 13 other states, which had sodomy laws on their books.

"This lecture is a timely look at an important human rights case that put a halt on decades of discrimination," said Kate Mehuron, associate dean of programs and professor of philosophy at Eastern Michigan, who developed the program.

 The ruling is considered a landmark decision by the Supreme Court that overturned a law prohibiting same-sex sexual activity, says Arnold Fleishmann, professor and head of EMU's political science department.

"This case actually began with a false police report made to the Houston police, saying there was an armed, crazy man in an apartment," Fleishmann said. "When police entered the apartment, they found two men - John Lawrence and Tyron Garner - having sex."

A friend, who had an off-and-on relationship with Garner, filed the report. John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were then arrested for allegedly violating Texas'  "homosexual conduct law," a law that applied only to same-sex couples.

The two men, with support by Lambda Legal Defense, challenged the law, starting with a "no contest plea," which meant there was never an actual trial. Lambda Legal Defense is the nation's oldest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS.

"From that point on, everything was done on appeal, where there are no witness or evidence, just written (briefs) and oral legal arguments to judges about the underlying issue," said Fleishmann.

Fleischmann notes that Carpenter's book documents the twists and turns of the case and how it evolved over the past five years into one of the landmark rulings for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) rights.  The author also provides explanations of legal procedures and terms and even recounts some humorous episodes.

Carpenter received his bachelor's degree in history from Yale College in 1989 and received his law degree with honors from the University of Chicago in 1992. He clerked for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and has worked for law firms in Houston and San Francisco.

He is frequently interviewed by the media regarding constitutional law, the First Amendment, and sexual orientation and the law.

The lecture is in honor of Constitution Day, created in 2004 by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). It also is known as Citizenship Day, to commemorate the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

"I can't think of a better way to bring together campus community members from the departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, the new EMU Center for the Study of Equality and Human Rights, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resources," Mehuron said.

EMU's event is sponsored by the Division of Academic & Student Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Political Science.

For more information, contact Arnold Fleischmann at















Pamela Young

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