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Michael Hardwick
(February 23, 1954 - June 13, 1991) U.S.A.

Michael Hardwick

Activist

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Born in Miami, Florida, to a middle-class family, Hardwick studied horticulture at the University of Florida and worked in several professions before settling in Atlanta, Georgia, as a bartender at a gay bar.

In August 1982, a police officer entering Hardwick's apartment to serve him with a warrant for failure to appear in court (later determined to be invalid) found Hardwick engaged in private consensual oral sex with another man, and arrested both under Georgia's sodomy law, that was a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Laws forbidding sodomy have ancient roots. While the individual's sex is rarely stated therein, they have almost always been used to prosecute homosexual conduct. All fifty US states forbade sodomy until 1961, when legal reformers in Illinois first removed the penalty. Movements to repeal the laws continued in the post-Stonewall gay and lesbian rights movement.

By the time of Hardwick's arrest, sodomy laws were almost universally unenforced. Some legal scholars believed the laws were therefore unimportant, while many advocates of gay and lesbian equality saw them as a symbolic gesture of hatred and recognised them as obstacles to other goals such as military service, immigration rights or same-sex marriage.

After prompting by the American Civil Liberties Union, Hardwick agreed to challenge the constitutianality of the Georgia law. The Unite States Supreme Court heard the case in March 1986. Hardwick's attorneys argued that his privacy rights had been violated. In its June 1986 opinion, the Supreme Court upheld the costitutionality of the Georgia sodomy statute by a narrow 5-4 vote.

Although keeping a low public profile as his case worked its way through the system, his experience as the victim of a hate crime and his frustration at the Court's decision led him to speak out at political gatherings and on national television prgrammes.

Michael Hardwick died in Gainsville, Florida due to complications from AIDS.

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Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, from WWII to Present Day, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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