Bowers V. Hardwick June 1986: Everyone Involved, Including Evan Wolfson, Was Shocked When They Lost the Groundbreaking Supreme Court Case. (Gods & Monsters)

By Wolfson, Evan | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), November 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bowers V. Hardwick June 1986: Everyone Involved, Including Evan Wolfson, Was Shocked When They Lost the Groundbreaking Supreme Court Case. (Gods & Monsters)


Wolfson, Evan, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


It was early on the morning of June 30, 1986, when my friend Roz Richter (formerly managing attorney at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, now a New York judge) phoned to give me the bad news: We had lost the Bowers v. Hardwick case. Roz called early because she knew how hard the news would hit me. Not only had I been the junior attorney on the team that filed briefs and attended arguments in this historic U.S. Supreme Court case, but, like most of those involved, I expected to win.

The case involved a gay man from Georgia, Michael Hardwick, who was arrested in his bedroom for engaging in private consensual sex. Our nongay champion, professor Larry Tribe, made it clear to the justices that the real question in the case wasn't what Michael was doing in his bedroom but what the police were doing there. Nevertheless, the court ruled 5-4 against our right to privacy and in favor of Georgia's "sodomy" law.

As I sat in bed that June morning I remembered how excited our team had been just three months earlier. We had breakfast together in the Supreme Court cafeteria, where I first met the hunky Michael Hardwick. Michael and I later sat together in the courtroom during the arguments--grimacing as then--chief justice Burger intoned from the bench, "Well, Professor Tribe, didn't we used to put people to death for this?" and clutching each other's knees when Tribe pounded home good points.

Afterward, at lunch, we happily relived the argument, speculating on how many votes we had carried. Then Michael and I slipped away to walk around Washington, soak in the cherry blossoms, savor the pride of being openly gay on this historic day, and kiss defiantly in front of the Reagan White House.

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