On the heels of Sheriff Sid Gautreaux’s apology for wrongfully arresting 12 gay men using an anti-sodomy law, East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado is calling for an parishwide ordinance to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But this effort is not a revival of the controversial and unsuccessful “One Baton Rouge” resolution, Delgado said, because One Baton Rouge didn’t go far enough.
“The time for platitudes has passed,” Delgado said. “What we need to do is offer legal protection to not only people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but for race, religion and creed.”
One Baton Rouge was a nonbinding resolution that expressed tolerance of all “colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities and people of all walks of life.” The Metro Council rejected the resolution in 2007, and in 2010, it was withdrawn for lack of support. The resolution drew intense opposition from churches, conservative groups and the Louisiana Family Forum.
Other Metro Council members interviewed Tuesday said they would like to read Delgado’s proposed ordinance before commenting. However, they also said there are laws in place to prevent discrimination and the city-parish does not need to tackle another issue that divides the community.
Since 2011, the Sheriff’s Office has conducted a series of sting operations at Manchac Park in which the deputies used the anti-sodomy law to arrest men agreeing to have consensual sex with undercover agents — usually at a private residences.
Delgado has publicly condemned the Sheriff’s Office for the arrests based on an anti-sodomy law that was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. He was interviewed by both The New York Times and Reuters this week amid public outcry over the arrests.
For his part, Gautreaux has apologized publicly for the sting operations, saying his deputies “made mistakes,” and that he would push to have the unenforceable portions of the law removed from the state’s criminal statute. The sheriff has said targeting gay men was not his office’s intention.
On Tuesday, Delgado announced that District Attorney Hillar Moore III would expunge the arrests off the records of the men wrongfully arrested, and waive the fees. Moore has said his office declined to prosecute the cases because the men had committed no criminal violations.
Delgado said he hasn’t written an ordinance, so many of the details will emerge after conversations with other attorneys and his colleagues on the council. But he said that if he can draw support from at least one council member to second his ordinance, then he will place it on the agenda for consideration.
At a minimum, Delgado wants the ordinance to apply to private companies that do business with the city-parish. But he said he could envision a more far-reaching ordinance that applied to all Baton Rouge businesses.
Many public entities, including the East Baton Rouge Parish government and the District Attorney’s Office, have policies that forbid employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But there are no statutes statewide or locally that protect people’s sexual orientation in the private sector, Delgado said.
“You can be fired in the state of Louisiana for sexual orientation and no one has cause for (legal) action,” he said. “But if we passed something like this, in East Baton Rouge Parish, you would have cause.”
Bruce Parker, Capital City Alliance board member, said the LGBT advocacy organization would like to see an ordinance that protects both sexual orientation and gender identity in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
The city-parish has an anti-discrimination policy for housing, that includes race, religion and sex, but not sexual orientation or gender identity.
Parker and Delgado both noted that nationwide, public sentiment has changed toward gays and lesbians, with many states allowing gay marriage, an endorsement by President Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and a statement by the Pope Francis that gay people should not be “marginalized” but instead “integrated into society.” Earlier this year, a survey by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation showed that a plurality of respondents in Baton Rouge support gay marriage.
But some council members said another local anti-discrimination ordinance is unnecessary.
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said he couldn’t comment on the ordinance until he read it, but criticized Delgado for contributing to dividing the community over the issue. He said the council has been confronted with “numerous allegations, lawsuits and instances of documented violations of legal rights.”
“Mr. Delgado did not flinch when these actions came before council, but now seems to be championing a cause he has ignored on many occasions,” Loupe said. “I certainly don’t think it has done anything but divide our community even more, and brought attention to those arrested that they probably would have preferred to avoid.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said she could not support the ordinance, recalling how One Baton Rouge divided the city-parish.
“There are things on the books now to protect and make sure people are not discriminated against,” Wicker said. “The people of Baton Rouge have already said this is not something that they want, and I don’t want to take us back to something we’ve already visited before.”
Councilman Scott Wilson also said he will not support “anything similar to One Baton Rouge.” He also offered his support to the sheriff.
“What’s going on with the sheriff, I’m not going to micromanage him,” Wilson said. “But I supported him, and he’s done a lot of good for the parish.”
Other council members said they need to see the ordinance before commenting.
“It’s something I got to think about,” said Councilman Trae Welch. “Maybe it is time. It’s the values I instill in my son and my children.”
But Welch questioned whether another law was necessary. He noted that the 12 men who were arrested have a clear legal case.
Other council members said any kind of discrimination should not be tolerated.
“I’d have to see the ordinance to have a real position, but I believe there is no place in modern society for discrimination on any front, especially in government,” said Councilman Ryan Heck.
Councilwomen Chauna Banks-Daniel and C. Denise Marcelle said they could potentially support an ordinance that offered protection for sexual orientation, as well as things like race, religion and nationality.
Banks-Daniel said she would need to know that the ordinance is not redundant when compared to other laws on the books.
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