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social sciences

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ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project  
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In the 1990s, there were also significant victories in the area of family law as several states approved more humane custody and visitation arrangements and New Jersey became the first state to authorize joint adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a matter of right (Gallucio v. New Jersey, 1997).

In an important employment discrimination case, a federal court ordered the reinstatement of a lesbian high school teacher in Utah (Weaver v. Nebo School District, 1998).

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But by far the greatest victory of the 1990s was Romer v. Evans (1996). In this case, the Court ruled that Colorado's Amendment 2 attempted to "classify homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else," adding: "This Colorado cannot do." The decision helped stem the tide of anti-gay initiatives that were sweeping across the South and West at the time, and it helped pave the way for the historic ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 reversed Bowers v. Hardwick.

The New Century

In the first decade of the new century, the ACLU finally helped accomplish its long-cherished dream of having the Supreme Court void laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual activity.

When the U. S. Supreme Court reversed Bowers v. Hardwick in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), it did more than simply strike down seldom-enforced laws against sexual activity in 13 reactionary states. It also affirmed the full citizenship of glbtq Americans.

Although the lead attorneys in the appeal to the Supreme Court were Lambda Legal's Ruth Harlow and Paul M. Smith, the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project participated in planning the suit. James Esseks, litigation director of the Project, also filed an amicus brief urging that the Court overturn Bowers v. Hardwick.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the Court's majority as he had in Romer v. Evans, declared that gay men and lesbians 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." Moreover, he implied that the relationships entered into by glbtq people are themselves worthy of respect when he added that "The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons."

The ACLU successfully used this landmark ruling to secure the release of a young man, Matthew Limon, who in 2000 at the age of 18 had been convicted of performing consensual oral sex on a 15-year-old male in Kansas and sentenced to 17 years and two months in prison. Had the 15-year-old male been a female, the sentence would have been a maximum of 15 months for the same offense.

Finally, in Kansas v. Limon, in 2005, after Limon had served over five years in prison, the Kansas Supreme Court, relying on Lawrence v. Texas, declared unconstitutional the Kansas law under which he was convicted as violating the equal protection provisions of the U. S. and Kansas Constitutions and ordered him released.

Since then, the ACLU and other litigators on behalf of glbtq issues have attempted to use Lawrence to secure other rights and protections for gay and lesbian people, especially in challenging "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," restrictions on adoption and custody arrangements, and in asking states to recognize same-sex relationships.

The ruling in Lawrence has also been beneficial to lobbying efforts on behalf of anti-discrimination laws and other legislation. No longer are homosexuals status criminals in the United States.

In recent years, the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project has been particularly active in cases involving same-sex marriage, law, and students' rights.

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