John G. Lawrence, 68, whose bedroom encounter with the police in Texas led to one of the gay-rights movement's signal triumphs, the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in
Lawrence v. Texas
, died Nov. 20 at his Houston home from complications of a heart ailment, his partner, Jose Garcia, said Friday.
Mr. Lawrence's death came to light when a lawyer in the case, Mitchell Katine, sought to reach him with an invitation to an event commemorating the ruling.
The ruling struck down a Texas law that made gay sex a crime and swept away sodomy laws in a dozen other states. It reversed a 17-year-old precedent, Bowers v. Hardwick, which had ruled that nothing in the Constitution stopped states from making it a crime for gay men to have consensual sex at home.
But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for five justices in the 6-3 Lawrence decision, said: "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives."
"The state," he wrote, "cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
The case began Sept. 17, 1998, when police investigating a report of a "weapons disturbance" entered Mr. Lawrence's apartment. They said they saw him and Tyron Garner having sex and arrested them for violating a Texas law prohibiting "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex."
The men were held overnight, and each was fined $200. Texas courts rejected their constitutional challenges to the state law, relying on the Bowers decision.
Mr. Lawrence "was upset about how he was treated, physically and personally, that night," said Katine, a Houston lawyer who represented him. "The fire stayed in him. When he was vindicated in the Supreme Court, he felt he got justice."
Suzanne B. Goldberg, who represented Mr. Lawrence as part of her work then at Lambda Legal, said he "had not been active in the gay-rights movement or even out as a gay man to all of his coworkers and family. Instead, this was something that happened to him. The police came into his bedroom and put him into the middle of one of the most significant gay-rights cases in our time."
Mr. Lawrence served four years in the Navy and was a medical technician until his retirement in 2009. - N.Y. Times News Service