He became an accidental activist; an ex-boyfriend even called him the Joan of Arc of the gay world.
His lawyers thought surely the Supreme Court would rule in Hardwick's favor. It didn't.
A dozen years later, in 1998, Georgia repealed its sodomy law after the state's high court declared it unconstitutional. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its own ruling in the Hardwick case when it struck down a ''deviant sexual intercourse'' law in Texas.
Hardwick didn't live to see any of the legal progress.
Devastated by his legal defeat, he died in obscurity in 1991, when AIDS was ravaging the nation and two years before a movie about the illness, "Philadelphia," portrayed the disease to mainstream America.
Two decades later, his sister hailed him as a pioneer, a man who helped make things better for her own two children, who are both gay.
"I am sorry he is not alive to see all the changes," Browning-Chriss said.
Browning-Chriss is thankful for the path her brother helped pave and content that her daughter can live happily with her partner, even have children.
Every movement has people who are out front, Browning-Chriss said. She is proud her brother was one of those people in a movement that has come of age.
In a few days the Boy Scouts will probably make a decision on its national policy. It has indicated that it may very well pass membership decisions to the local level.
In the meantime, the battle lines have been drawn, as they have been for every other hurdle faced by gay rights proponents.
Opponents of gay membership have urged people to contact the Boy Scouts and let their opinions be known. Proponents have done the same.
No one is doubting the importance of this particular fight or the ones coming up in the nation's highest court, but many gay rights proponents are buoyed in their belief that a majority of America now stands with them in achieving equal rights for LGBT people. For the first time, they feel victory within reach.