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Interview With Ruth Harlow

Aired June 26, 2003 - 19:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, the big story, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a Texas law prohibiting gay men from engaging in sexual relations in their own homes.
As our national correspondent Bob Franken explains now, the ruling's impact goes way beyond Texas.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Those who fought the Texas law banning gay sodomy had ample reason to celebrate with the court declaring all such laws unconstitutional.

RUTH HARLOW, LAMBDA LEGAL: What the court said is that all of us, as adults, have the liberty to choose how we're going to express our love for one another in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

FRANKEN: The court said the Texas statute discriminates against homosexuals and that the government has no right with any law against sodomy to intrude in what the justices said was a matter of personal liberty and privacy.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 6-3 majority: "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never chose to be public figures or to take on this fight but we also never thought we could be arrested this way.

FRANKEN: John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner became reluctant legal pioneers in 1998 after police crashed into their Texas apartment. They were caught in a homosexual act, arrested, jailed, and fined $200.

In repudiating the Texas law against homosexual sodomy, the court took the extraordinary step of emphatically overruling its own 1986 decision upholding such laws, saying times and attitudes have changed.

And the ruling invalidates all prohibitions against sodomy, heterosexual as well, in 13 starts that still outlaw it.

The decision drew a stinging dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for justices Rehnquist and Thomas. Scalia contended that the majority, in saying moral disapproval did not justify sodomy laws had "taken sides in the culture war" and "largely signed on with the so- called homosexual agenda." And he warned "state laws against bigamy, same sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity" are "called into question by today's decision."

REV. ROB SCHENCK, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CLERGY COUNCIL: The court has said today that morality, matters of right and wrong behavior, do not matter in the law.

FRANKEN (on camera): The court has now given sexual practices the same privacy protections afforded other personal decisions: contraception, marriage, child rearing, even education.

Bob Franken, CNN, the Supreme Court.


COOPER: Joining me from Washington right now is the attorney who represented the two Texas men involved in today's case. Ruth Harlow is with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund.

Ruth, thanks for being with us. As you just heard in that report, Antonin Scalia, and a lot of other conservatives, for that matter, basically said the laws against prostitution, incest, bigamy are now all in jeopardy because of this ruling. Do you agree?

HARLOW: I don't agree. This case was about very fundamental rights that all adults have. It wasn't about all of the list of parade of horribles that Justice Scalia came up with. And of course, he was in the minority.

What this case is about is basic freedom, the basic freedom that all adults have to choose who their consensual sexual partners are going to be and how they're going to express their love in private. So this is a case that all Americans who believe in very basic freedoms should be cheering about.

COOPER: It was quite a broad ruling, as you said. I mean, was there anything in it that -- did you get everything you wanted?

HARLOW: We did get everything we wanted. We knew when we were going to the court that we were asserting very fundamental rights and we thought they were so stark that the court would agree with us and, of course, the court did.

What was tremendous today is that the court admitted its mistake in 1986, admitted it had been wrong then, and that its opinion then and demeaned gay people and emphasized today that gay Americans, like all Americans, are entitled to full respect and equal claim to the constitutional rights.

COOPER: Ruth, you also know that Antonin Scalia wrote in the dissent, saying that the court has "largely signed on with the so- called homosexual agenda." Now, I mean, in a sense, this does give you legal ammunition to move ahead on other issues relating to gay rights. HARLOW: Well, this case isn't about an agenda or ammunition. It's about going to the most powerful court in our country and saying that the state here has invaded basic freedoms. And as Justice Kennedy said for the majority, that's exactly what the court is for. It's open, its doors are open and any group that's being subjected to oppression, discrimination and denial of freedom should have the ability to go to the court. And that's what we did.

COOPER: Obviously, another controversial issue, gay marriage. Are you closer now to getting gay marriage in the United States?

HARLOW: Well, this case doesn't decide that question. The Supreme Court doesn't prejudge future issues.

But it certainly today emphasized that gay people, including in their relationships, are entitled to respect and full rights as citizens in this country. And we will keep fighting against any other forms of irrational discrimination that still exist.

COOPER: All right, Ruth Harlow. Major decision today. Thanks very much for being with us from the Lambda Legal Defense Fund.

HARLOW: Thank you.


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