Pride march celebrates court ruling

NEW YORK – The 250,000 people crowded along Fifth Avenue June 29 to take part in and watch the 34th annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Pride March were celebrating something more specific than the ongoing fight for equal rights.

The marchers, along with those in other cities, were hailing the Supreme Court decision in the Lawrence v. Texas case that lays the constitutional basis for repeal of all state sodomy laws. At the same time, right-wing groups were preparing to challenge the decision.

“This is long, long overdue,” Kathy Massey, a member of the national board of directors of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said. “It was a barbaric, obsolete, ridiculous law that never should have been there.”

Cathy Renna, news media director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said it was “clearly a landmark decision. What the Court said affirms the right to privacy for gay and lesbian people, and it makes real that they are protected as full and equal citizens.”

The 6-3 decision overturned the Texas sodomy law as well as the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision of the Supreme Court.

The Bowers decision, which Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) once compared to the Dred Scott decision, upheld a Georgia sodomy law saying that gays and lesbians had no constitutional rights to engage in intimate sexual acts.

Moreover, the court’s overturn of its decision in the Bowers case demonstrates changes in the way society views the LGBT community.

“There’s more of an ‘out community’ now, and it’s more acceptable to support the LGBT community,” Massey told the World. “At the Houston Pride parade you could see it – kids are coming out when they’re 16. Twelve years ago, it was rare that you saw somebody who was 20 that was out.”

Calling it a “day to celebrate,” Nancy Wohlforth, co-president of the AFL-CIO’s Pride At Work, said, “In the long, often difficult struggle for equality and dignity for LGBT people, this is a beautiful victory.”

Ruth Harlow, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and lead counsel on the case, said, “Today, the Supreme Court corrected one of its gravest mistakes. This ruling removes the terrible shadow cast over the gay community by the Supreme Court’s destructive and misguided decision 17 years ago [in the Bowers decision]. … Today’s decision shows how far we have come since 1986.”

The struggle that resulted in the Supreme Court’s decision began in Houston, Texas when John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Lawrence’s apartment and were later convicted and fined for having private, consensual sex. The Texas Supreme Court rejected their appeal challenging the constitutionality of the sodomy law, using the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bowers case to justify their action.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, was joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, Steven Breyer and John Paul Stevens. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor filed a concurring opinion, though she did not agree with the overruling of Bowers.

Kennedy argued that “adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. … When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination.”

The decision is also seen as a step forward for liberties of all people. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said, “We are hopeful that this decision will be the basis for expanding personal liberties for all Americans.”

As soon as the decision was announced many right-wing opponents went on the attack. While Texas Gov. Rick Perry was forced to praise the court’s decision, Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum said lawmakers would look for ways to rewrite the law to get around the court’s ruling.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said on June 29 he would support a constitutional amendment making gay marriage illegal, comparing it to prostitution or illegal drug activity.

For many LGBT rights activists, this response wasn’t surprising coming as it did after comments about Lawrence v. Texas by Rep. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) last month in which he compared gay relationships to bestiality and incest. Rev. Jerry Falwell made similar comments after the ruling.

There is still room for improvement, many activists say. “We continue to see progress. Just today Wal-Mart announced that it is going to offer benefits to same-sex partners,” Renna told the World. “The majority of people don’t want discrimination written into the Constitution. Some groups and politicians are out of touch. Most people want us treated equally, with the same full rights as heterosexuals.”

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org