Anti-sodomy law vote continues to roil EBR council

State Rep. Patricia Smith Show caption
State Rep. Patricia Smith

Unconstitutional law called ‘legislative’ issue

Metro Council members were still at war — with one another and constituents — a day after voting to reject a resolution of support for removing unconstitutional anti-sodomy laws from Louisiana statutes.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, who voted with the majority against the proposal, blamed Councilman John Delgado for dividing the council and the city.

He accused Delgado, a sponsor of the resolution, of sensationalizing the issue to raise his own public profile.

“I’ve lost all respect for the man,” Loupe said. “You can’t continue to do this and divide the city.”

On Wednesday, the Metro Council voted on what was intended to be a symbolic gesture of support for a legislative proposal by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to remove the anti-sodomy laws from the books.

Such laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, but the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office cited the state’s law in recent years when it arrested more than a dozen gay men in sting operations for consenting to sex. The District Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute the cases.

Ahead of the vote, groups such as the Louisiana Family Forum and the Baptist Association of Southern Baton Rouge expressed their strong opposition to the measure.

The Family Forum emailed residents urging them to voice their disapproval to the council, which prompted a flood of emails against the resolution.

However, some prominent local groups expressed disappointment Thursday with the Metro Council’s action, saying the council was continuing to project an image that Baton Rouge is intolerant toward gays and lesbians.

The Metro Council is “out of sync with the rest of the community,” according to John Davies, president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation,

adding recent surveys show local and statewide residents are generally supportive of gay and lesbian rights.

BRAF is a philanthropic community foundation.

In the 2013 BRAF quality of life survey, 47 percent of respondents said they were in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage while 45 percent were opposed; 6 percent said they did not know. A subsequent poll by LSU of Louisiana residents also found nine out of 10 residents support some sort of workplace protection for gays and lesbians.

After Wednesday’s vote on the resolution, several council members who opposed the measure said they felt it was inappropriate for the council to take on a legislative issue.

Davies said that was a weak explanation for a no vote.

“It’s nice for legislators to go to the state and say this has already passed in our city council,” he said. “Last night’s act was nonsensical.”

Forum 35 President Jesse Hoggard said that organization of young Baton Rouge professionals values diversity and promoting a more accepting society.

“Though symbolic, the council could have used (its) vote to send a message that people of all backgrounds and walks of life are welcomed and accepted in Baton Rouge,” Hoggard said in an email. “Voting it down sends the exact opposite message.”

Smith, a Democrat, said she was not surprised by the council’s vote, adding she had never asked the council to consider the resolution. She said she expects more of the same opposition when the bill goes before the Legislature, but is staying optimistic.

“Hopefully the Legislature will have more of a level head and see it’s an unconstitutional law, regardless of your beliefs about gay and lesbian rights,” Smith said.

Loupe said he would have supported removing the unconstitutional law, but decided to vote against the resolution when Delgado “turned it into an issue about racial equality, bigotry and every discrimination in the world.”

He said Delgado is taking on hot-button issues to get attention.

“All he’s done since he’s been here is introduce item after item to divide the parish,” Loupe said, noting Delgado’s outspoken stance on the proposed St. George incorporation. “What has he accomplished other than get his name in the paper? It’s wrong, it’s just wrong.”

Delgado responded that Loupe should be ashamed of himself for making such an accusation.

“If anyone takes this issue seriously, it’s me,” Delgado said. “I don’t think anyone in the LGBT community thinks I did this as a publicity stunt.”

Delgado said he still plans to bring forward an ordinance that would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Now we see all the reasons why we need the ordinance,” he said. “We have people who live in Baton Rouge and believe homosexuals are the same as child sex traffickers and drug users. That’s why we need it. Those are those people who are going to discriminate.”

Delgado was referring to comments made by a speaker at Wednesday’s council likening homosexuality to those crimes.

Only Delgado, C. Denise Marcelle and the measure’s co-sponsor, Ryan Heck, voted in favor of the resolution.

Some council members who voted against it have said they did not feel it was their place to weigh in on the legislative issue.

“It’s not that I’m against it, but if it’s the law and it’s handed down then there’s nothing we can do about it anyway,” said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis. “If it’s a legislative matter, then let the Legislature take it.”

Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she had concerns in particular because Smith’s bill struck language that applied to minors who engage in oral and anal sex.

“Everything that protected the children was deleted,” she said.