Lawrence V. Texas’ Defendant, John Lawrence, Dies at 68

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday December 23, 2011

The defendant in the 2003 landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas passed away on Nov. 20, according to an obituary from the R.S. Farmer Funeral Home in Texas, reported the Metro Weekly in a Dec. 23 article.

The infamous case proved that the country's sodomy laws were unconstitutional as they limited the rights of the LGBT community.

John Geddes Lawrence, 68, was born in Beaumont, Texas, on August 2, 1943 and served in the U.S. Navy and later as a medical technologist until he retired in 2009.

On Sept. 7, 1998, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas' Homosexual Conduct Law. Police entered Lawrence's house and saw them having sex. The men claimed that the legislation was unconstitutional and with the help of Lambda Legal, a LGBT civil rights organization, fought their case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was held in 2003.

Three months after bringing their case to the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. ... Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do."

"He really was the most unassuming person that I could imagine, and yet, he was a hero," Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, told the newspaper. "Most people try to plead out and avoid publicity [with sodomy charges]; it's tough to find people who want to attach their names to sodomy challenges. ... and yet, they did this amazing thing. And we all are the better for it."

"Because Tyron Garner and John Lawrence had the courage to challenge homophobic sodomy laws, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that love, sexuality, and family play the same role in gay people's lives as they do for everyone else," Cathcart told the Advocate. "That's a colossal legacy and one for which his community will forever be thankful."

Lawrence's obituary states that his partner John Garcia "cared for him at the end of his life."

Lawrence will forever be remembered in furthering equality for the LGBT community. The spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBT civil rights organization in the nation, talked to Metro Weekly about Lawrence.

"It's hard to believe that less than 10 years ago, gay and lesbian people could be marked as criminals just for being themselves, but because of people like John Lawrence, those days are no more in this country," Michael Cole-Schwartz said. "To be the namesake of a legal case that continues to underpin advances for LGBT equality is a fitting tribute to John Lawrence, whose courage to stand up improved the lives of millions."

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