Anti-sodomy statute targeted

A Baton Rouge legislator wants to remove from state law a provision that was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court but still was used to arrest men agreeing to have consensual sex.

Both the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys have indicated support for the change in Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law, but state Rep. Patricia Smith is getting opposition from the Louisiana Family Forum, a major political force among conservatives in state politics.

Smith submitted the change in Louisiana law for consideration in the legislative session that opens March 10.

“It was definitely something that needed to be dealt with,” said Smith, a Democrat. “It’s unconstitutional. We need to get rid of it to make sure people don’t get arrested for something they should not be charged with.”

The legislation, filed as House Bill 12, would eliminate consensual oral and anal sex between human beings from the law prohibiting crime against nature and aggravated crime against nature. The anti-sodomy law would continue to apply to “unnatural” sexual acts with an animal.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the provision applying to human beings a decade ago, but it remains in Louisiana statutes. The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office used it to arrest men who agreed to consensual sex with undercover agents.

Gene Mills, who heads the Louisiana Family Forum, a group that promotes what it calls traditional religious values in state policy, said Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law has not been testedin court. He sees no reason to change it.

Mills predicted a tough legislative battle ahead for Smith and other proponents. “It may be difficult for Pat to find a great deal of support in this legislative body for taking it off the books,” he said.

Mills said the difficulty in prosecuting the cases that arose from the Sheriff’s Office’s sting operation involved entrapment of the men. “I don’t believe it’s the law,” he said.

The arrests of at least a dozen men since 2011 using the anti-sodomy statute came to light last year, bringing national attention and a storm of controversy over the practice. Civil rights activists and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community expressed outrage.

The men were booked on counts of attempted crime against nature. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office declined to prosecute the cases because the men had committed no criminal violation.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux apologized for the arrests and said he would push to have the unenforceable portions of the anti-sodomy law removed from the state’s criminal statutes.

Smith said she told Gautreaux then that she would sponsor the legislation.

Louisiana Sheriffs Association Executive Director Michael Renatza said Gautreaux has discussed repeal of the unenforceable provision with the sheriffs.

“In our conversation we said we would be supportive of it,” Renatza said.

The Sheriffs Association meets in mid-February for a Lake Charles conference at which it will take formal positions on bills filed for debate in the legislative session. The anti-sodomy revision will be taken up then, he said.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association will not oppose the repeal or correction of those statutes that are obviously unconstitutional, Executive Director Pete Adams said.

“That provision of that statute needs to be repealed,” Adams said. “We are going to help.”