Lawyer Dale Carpenter came to Eastern Michigan University Tuesday to give a lecture on an issue for gay and lesbian rights. Carpenter discussed the history, trial and the Supreme Court’s decision on the civil rights case Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
In September 1998, at an apartment on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, couple Tyrone Garner, 31, and Robert Eubanks, 41, were at longtime friend John Lawrence’s apartment helping him move furniture. After their day, the three homosexual men were relaxing and having a few drinks.
“Eubanks was drinking Absolute Vodka straight from the bottle,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said that while intoxicated, Eubanks became enraged and jealous. He called the police and said there was a black man with a gun going crazy in an apartment. The theory behind Eubanks infamous phone call to the police was driven by the thought that Garner and Lawrence had been flirting.
“This is the point in the story that Sherriff’s Deputy [Joseph] Quinn and Lawrence’s explanation of that night become very different,” Carpenter said, explaining that this was the conclusion after interviewing every main witness and victim from the trial.
Quinn, an officer who previously had been sent to anger management services, said he and three other officers crept up to the apartment door and made their presence known.
The officer said the door to Lawrence’s apartment was open, so they let themselves in and began walking around what they thought was an empty apartment. Once they reached the bedroom, Quinn claimed he saw two men engaged in anal as well as oral sex. Carpenter continued to explain that Quinn had repeatedly told the two men to stop, but they would not.
“Eventually, we had to pry them apart,” he said. “They just wouldn’t stop.”
Carpenter noted that Lawrence’s story was vastly different. The 55-year-old Navy veteran explained how the officers just “barged in,” and saw Lawrence sitting on the couch in his underwear while Garner was in the kitchen. He said they weren’t even talking, let alone having sex.
Garner became angry at the police intrusion and called them “storm troopers” and “thugs.” Quinn wrote the pair a citation for $200, arrested them and took them to jail where they spent the night. It was in jail, Carpenter said, that Lawrence and Garner found out they were being charged with sodomy.
The two pleaded not guilty and from then on their case began spiraling down a chain of important advocates. They were in the jurisdiction of Judge Powell, who had a closeted clerk. His clerk got ahold of the arrest report and gave a copy to his friend Lewis, who was a bartender at a gay club as well as a gay rights activist. Lewis knew someone who could get his case rolling.
Lawyer Ruth Harlow masterminded the case and convinced the pair to press forward with their case to get rid of laws against sodomy in Texas.
After the case was taken to the Supreme Court, the nine justices chose to hear the case in 2003. Paul Smith, a gay rights advocate who was highly credited with business cases, “masterfully delivered and convinced the jury,” Carpenter said.
As Justice Kennedy read his response that “Bower v. Hardwick has been overruled” the crowd became overwhelmed with emotion. Bower vs. Hardwick had been the case to make sodomy illegal in the state of Texas.
Carpenter expressed that he felt this was the right choice. He believes that Lawrence and Garner had been wrongfully convicted.
“They were arrested for doing nothing, but for being something,” Carpenter said. “[This case is] the most important case to date that has to deal with same-sex couples.”