Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, is Dale Carpenter’s telling of the story behind the landmark Supreme Court gay rights case. The 2003 decision found that people had a right to private sexual conduct and overturned laws criminalizing homosexual sex as well as a previous, damaging Supreme Court decision. Until this decision, gays and lesbians were effectively criminalized in a good part of the US.
Carpenter’s book is readable and relevant for anyone interested in gay rights in the US courts, particularly as how it may play out for future gay marriage debates. He does a great job explaining the legal arguments and putting them into the context of the gay rights movement. He also tells the personal stories of the defendants and lawyers, particularly the Lambda Legal team who made the case. There’s a particularly moving description about how the Supreme Court itself had changed since the bad 1986 decision, how many of the justices now knew gay people.
The most fun part of the book is all the unknown weird details about the case. Much of this is available in a previous article Carpenter wrote (JSTOR; try your library), but it’s fleshed out more in the book. The defendants in the case, Lawrence and Garner, weren’t lovers and most likely weren’t even having the sex that the arresting officers claimed they were having. They were also 24 years apart and of differing race. All that detail was buried and the defendants were mostly removed from view in order to polish up the specific constitutional challenge that ended up in the Supreme Court. It helped that Texas put up a poor argument for the anti-gay law; the author suggests that the Houston DA’s heart wasn’t really in the case.
Reading this book gave me new respect for how hard, expensive, and detailed the fight for civil rights is in the US. We may be endowed with certain unalienable Rights, but it takes a lot of effort to convince the public to not deny them.
See also this Metafilter discussion