LOS ANGELES -- Tyron Garner, a plaintiff in a landmark US Supreme Court case that ended with justices striking down all laws that made sex between gay adults a crime, died Monday in a Houston hospital. He was 39.
The cause of death was not clear, but Mr. Garner had suffered from meningitis, said his brother Darrell.
The case that thrust Mr. Garner into the national spotlight began Sept. 17, 1998, at the apartment of John Geddes Lawrence. That night, police responding to a report of a man with a gun, entered into the apartment. The report was false, made by a jealous lover of Mr. Garner. But police said they found Lawrence and Mr. Garner engaged in sex and arrested them.
At the time a Texas law, Statute 2106, prohibited sodomy and made it a Class C misdemeanor, ``a very low level crime," said attorney Mitchell Katine, who represented the two men.
The ordeal might have ended with the two pleading guilty and paying a fine. But attorneys approached the men offering to represent them for free and to test the anti-sodomy law. Neither man had ever been involved in any civil rights actions in the past, but both saw the case as an opportunity to help right a wrong.
``I think he felt kind of obligated to take it to the Supreme Court, because he really felt his rights were violated," Darrell Garner said in an interview. ``It didn't make a difference whether he was gay or not. Your rights are your rights."
On June 26, 2001, the Supreme court declared that gays have a right to privacy and dignity in their personal lives. With a 6-3 ruling the court struck down laws in Texas and 12 other states that outlawed sex between gay people.
Before he became ill in January, Mr. Garner worked on a catering truck.
In addition to Darrell Garner, Mr. Garner leaves six brothers and two sisters.