HOUSTON (AP) â€” A Texas appeals court declared the state's sodomy law unconstitutional Thursday, throwing out the case of two Houston men who were arrested inside a home in 1998 for having sex with each other.
Texas has had a sodomy law since 1860 but dropped criminal penalties for partners of the opposite sex in 1974.
In a 2-1 ruling, the 14th Court of Appeals said the law violates the Texas Constitution's equal-rights protections.
``The simple fact is, the same behavior is criminal for some but not for others, based solely on the sex of the individuals who engage in the behavior,'' Justice John S. Anderson wrote.
The law was challenged by John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested when police entered Lawrence's apartment and found the men having sex. They were charged with ``deviant homosexual conduct,'' punishable by a fine of up to $500.
The officers had entered the apartment through an open door after a third man falsely reported an armed intruder was there. That man, who was Garner's roommate, was given 30 days in jail for filing a false report.
Lawrence and Garner pleaded no contest so they could start the legal challenge.
``We consider this a tremendous victory for lesbians and gay men throughout Texas,'' said Suzanne Goldberg, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay advocacy group that defended the two men. ``The state can no longer have a special rule allowing it to police the bedrooms of same-sex couples.''
The district attorney's office is expected to appeal.
``I was very much surprised when the equal rights argument carried the day,'' said Bill Delmore, a prosecutor on the case. ``I think that it's a pretty significant decision because it expands what the equal rights amendment was about. That's if it stands.''
Lawrence said: ``At least this nightmare brought some benefit for all of us in Texas. I am thankful and relieved that this horrible experience may finally be over.''