Council won’t support striking unconstitutional law from books
The Metro Council’s stance on gay and lesbian rights apparently hasn’t changed from the last time it took up the issue, when it rejected a “One Baton Rouge” tolerance resolution following an intense debate in 2007.
The council rejected a symbolic gesture Wednesday to endorse proposed state legislation that would remove anti-sodomy laws from the books that already have been deemed unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable.
Advocates urged council members to separate their personal views from the vote, calling it a housekeeping issue that keeps law enforcement out of trouble by preventing unlawful arrests.
Opponents contended a vote in favor would amount to an overall endorsement of lesbians and gays in the community.
The bill in the Legislature was proposed by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, as House Bill 12. It would strike the portion of state law that prohibits consensual oral and anal sex between people from the crimes against nature and aggravated crimes against nature statutes.
The law remains in Louisiana’s statutes even though it was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
“This law doesn’t ask you to say whether you’re for what’s in the bill, but it just asks you to uphold the law,” Smith told council members.
The council’s vote on the resolution was nonbinding. Only the Legislature has the power to remove state statutes.
Baton Rouge landed in the glare of a national spotlight earlier this year, after it was reported the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office had been using sting operations to arrest gay men in public parks for consenting to sex, citing the anti-sodomy law. District Attorney Hillar Moore III refused to prosecute the cases on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
“The law is unconstitutional. It cannot be legally enforced,” said Councilman John Delgado, who co-sponsored the resolution with Ryan Heck. “It serves no purpose in our law books, except to remind people that there is still plenty of hate left in some places.”
The resolution to support the anti-sodomy law’s repeal failed, 7-3, with only Delgado, Heck and C. Denise Marcelle supporting it. Council members Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, Buddy Amoroso, Joel Boe and Tara Wicker voted against the resolution. Trae Welch and Chauna Banks-Daniel were absent.
Bruce Parker, coalition manager at Equality Louisiana, said after the vote that he was disappointed in the council’s decision.
“This sends the wrong message to the city about the importance of following the law, and it sends the wrong message to the community about what values really matter,” Parker said.
About a dozen people spoke emotionally both for and against the resolution at Wednesday’s council meeting.
City resident Chris Kisling said it’s time for Baton Rouge to catch up with the times on the issue of gay and lesbian rights.
“I’m a taxpayer. I’ve been here multiple times as president of my neighborhood association. I root for the Tigers and the Saints. And I happen to be gay,” Kisling said. “But it doesn’t define me. We don’t have to be afraid of differences. We’re all stronger together.”
Stephen Dixon, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, said a 2013 Baton Rouge Area Foundation poll found a plurality of local residents are in support of gay marriage.
He added LSU football coach Les Miles made headlines the same day for expressing tolerance for gay football players, in the wake of NFL draft prospect Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay.
Opponents said support for the resolution would be tantamount to sanctioning behavior many consider morally objectionable.
Baton Rouge resident Bill Smith likened homosexuality to other crimes.
“Why don’t we just legalize drugs? I think we ought to legalize human trafficking next,” Smith said. “Don’t confuse the rule of the majority for the rule of God.”
Retired City Court Judge Darrell White reminded the Metro Council that the Supreme Court has reversed its own decisions 130 times.
He related homosexuality to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, and warned the council they would ultimately be judged by a higher power.
“Every one of you will stand and give an account for what you do,” he said pointing at the council members.
LGBT issues have long been a touchy subject for the Metro Council. In recent history, the One Baton Rouge resolution has year after year divided both the council and its constituents.
The ordinance was a nonbinding agreement expressing tolerance for people of all “colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities, and people of all walks of life.”
Conservative Christian groups voiced strong opposition to the resolution, and the Metro Council rejected it. A move to revive it in 2010 was withdrawn before ever making it to a vote when it became clear it lacked sufficient support.
Delgado has said for months that he would like to revive the One Baton Rouge resolution, but instead would offer an ordinance with teeth that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He said he never brought it up because he didn’t think he had the votes.
Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle also said she plans to bring forward a tolerance ordinance that would more broadly ban discrimination on the basis of such factors as race, sexual orientation and religion.
Aside from Delgado, no council members offered comments or explanation of their votes during the time for council debate.
When asked for comment after the meeting, some council members, including Buddy Amoroso and Donna Collins-Lewis, said they voted against the item because they thought it was inappropriate for the council to be weighing in on a legislative issue.
The Metro Council, however, commonly votes on resolutions supporting legislative bills.