Tyron Garner, one of two men whose 1998 arrests led to a US Supreme Court decision that struck down bans on sodomy, has died, according to a spokesman for the legal firm that represented him.

According to the Associated Press, Garner died early on Monday at a Houston hospital.

Mark Roy, a spokesman for Lambda Legal in New York City said that Garner suffered from meningitis and was in his brother’s care for the past six months.

“Over the last few months, he lost the use of his legs from meningitis,” Roy told the AP.

Garner and John Lawrence were arrested after police – sent by a bogus report of an armed intruder – burst into Lawrence’s apartment and found the two engaged in consensual sex.

They were jailed overnight and charged with breaking Texas’ Homosexual Conduct Law, which banned oral and anal sex between people of the same gender.

In June 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that what gay men and women do in the privacy of their bedrooms is their business and not the government’s.

The landmark 6-3 decision invalidated laws in Texas and 12 other states. It also galvanised both sides in an ongoing national debate over whether homosexuals are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals when it comes to marriage and adoption.

“Because Tyrone Garner and John Lawrence had the courage to challenge homophobic sodomy laws, the US Supreme Court recognised that love, sexuality and family play the same role in gay people’s lives as they do for everyone else,” reads a Lambda Legal media statement issued this week.

Garner, who sold barbecue from a street stand, told the Houston Chronicle in 2004 that it was hard to endure the loss of his privacy.

“I didn’t enjoy being outed with my mugshot on TV,” he said, “It was degrading to me.”

“I don’t really want to be a hero, but I want to tell other gay people ‘Be who you are, and don’t be afraid.'”

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