Justice O’Connor argues that the discrimination in this law which must be justified is not its discrimination with regard to the sex of the partner but its discrimination with regard to the sexual proclivity of the principal actor.
“While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas’ sodomy law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class.” Ante, at 5.
Of course the same could be said of any law. A law against public nudity targets “the conduct that is closely correlated with being a nudist,” and hence “is targeted at more than conduct”; it is “directed toward nudists as a class.” But be that as it may. Even if the Texas law does deny equal protection to “homosexuals as a class,” that denial still does not need to be justified by anything more than a rational basis, which our cases show is satisfied by the enforcement of traditional notions of sexual morality.
Justice O’Connor simply decrees application of “a more searching form of rational basis review” to the Texas statute. Ante, at 2. The cases she cites do not recognize such a standard, and reach their conclusions only after finding, as required by conventional rational-basis analysis, that no conceivable legitimate state interest supports the classification at issue. See Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S., at 635; Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 448—450 (1985); Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534—538 (1973). Nor does Justice O’Connor explain precisely what her “more searching form” of rational-basis review consists of. It must at least mean, however, that laws exhibiting “ ‘a … desire to harm a politically unpopular group,’ ” ante, at 2, are invalid even though there may be a conceivable rational basis to support them.
This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Justice O’Connor seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is a legitimate state interest. Ante, at 7. But “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples. Texas’s interest in §21.06 could be recast in similarly euphemistic terms: “preserving the traditional sexual mores of our society.” In the jurisprudence Justice O’Connor has seemingly created, judges can validate laws by characterizing them as “preserving the traditions of society” (good); or invalidate them by characterizing them as “expressing moral disapproval” (bad).