Kansas sodomy law nullified

Advocates say ruling may increase civil rights for homosexuals

Until Thursday, Kansas was one of four states with laws prohibiting homosexual sex.

No more.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling Thursday struck down a similar Texas law, also invalidating same-sex sodomy bans in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

In Lawrence, gays and lesbians celebrated the ruling.

“I’m glad to know the government can no longer be in my bedroom,” said Buck Rowland, a Lawrence gay advocate.

Others said the ruling meant more than sexual freedom it may also ease the way for Kansas homosexuals looking to have their partnerships legally recognized and to adopt children.

“Basically, the law has been used in the past for all kinds of official homophobia,” said Mike Silverman, chair of the Freedom Coalition, a Lawrence gay-rights organization. “That can’t be done anymore.”

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the ruling would end debates on the issue that periodically cropped up in the Kansas Legislature.

“We’ll certainly uphold the law of the land,” she said. “I think that reinforcing the right to privacy by the Supreme Court is a strong opinion and a very positive opinion.”

Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline issued a statement that he was notifying prosecutors and law enforcement officials of the ruling and that the Kansas law was now “unenforceable and unconstitutional.”

Not everyone was a fan of the court decision.

The Rev. Leo Barbee of Victory Bible Church led opposition in the mid-1990s to Simply Equal, the effort to include sexual orientation in Lawrence’s nondiscrimination laws.

“I have some opinions,” Barbee said after Thursday’s ruling, “but I don’t have any comment.”

‘Entitled to respect’

The 6-3 decision reverses course from a ruling 17 years ago that allowed states to punish homosexuals for what such laws historically called deviant sex.

Of the 13 states with sodomy laws, four Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri prohibited oral and anal sex between same-sex couples. The other nine ban consensual sodomy for everyone: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

Thursday’s ruling apparently invalidated those laws as well.

The two men at the heart of the Texas case, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner, each were fined $200 and spent a night in jail for the misdemeanor sex charge in 1998.

The men “are entitled to respect for their private lives,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.

“The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” he said.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer agreed with Kennedy in full. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed with the outcome of the case but not all of Kennedy’s rationale.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda,” Scalia wrote for the three. He took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.

“The court has taken sides in the culture war,” Scalia said, adding that he has “nothing against homosexuals.”

Though the majority opinion said the case did not “involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter,” Scalia said the ruling invited laws allowing gay marriage.

‘Unclear’ effects

David Brown, a Lawrence family court lawyer who frequently represents gays and lesbians, agreed with Scalia’s last point.

“You can bet that in the future, someone will be in court to say this case proves the courts should allow gay and lesbian marriage as well,” Brown said.

Other than that, he said, the future is muddy.

“It’s unclear what the ramifications will be,” Brown said. “The court ruled on privacy issues; commentators are already discussing what the effects will be in other areas, and family court law is one.”

Tina Long, a spokeswoman for Kansas Children’s Service League the state’s adoption contractor said gay people in Kansas could adopt children. Unlike heterosexual couples, however, only one partner in a gay couple can legally adopt a child, she said, because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex unions.

Thursday’s ruling may not change that situation, she said.

“I would imagine striking down the sodomy law is different from the state recognizing a same-sex union,” Long said.

Silverman predicted efforts now would be made to persuade Kansas legislators to extend civil rights to gays and lesbians.

“I’m incredibly excited and incredibly happy,” he said. “It’s the most historic civil rights decision in my lifetime.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.