Changing Sodomy Law Wouldn’t Affect Many
Orleans Times-Picayune, March 10, 2003
3800 Howard Ave., New Orleans, LA 70140
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By Cain Burdeau, The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP)—When New Orleans
District Attorney Eddie Jordan said last week he was willing to support the
decriminalization of anal and oral sex in the home, he established context to
debate Louisiana’s sodomy law.
Jordan said consenting adults should be able to perform
noncommercial sex in the privacy of their homes without fear of punishment
because it is not a “public matter.”
But Jordan said sodomy should remain a felony punishable
by five years in prison and $2,000 in fines if done in public, for money or
Does Louisiana need to be so harsh on prostitutes or
people who perform sex in public?
The answer is “no” for John Rawls, a lawyer for the
Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians Inc., a group which has sought to
get the law overturned in the courts.
Homosexuals are the most vocal opponents of the law
because they feel it discriminates against them.
Opposition to change has come mostly from the Christian
right, which finds both homosexuals and prostitutes immoral. Also, they see
Jordan’s position as evidence of a cultural gap between New Orleans and the
rest of the state.
“A lot of people in Louisiana look at New Orleans and
tell friends and family that’s not all there is to Louisiana,” said Gene
Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum.
Mills said homosexuals want to strike down the sodomy law
because it stands in the way of their broader agenda to get the right to marry
and adopt children.
Rawls was disappointed that Jordan did not go further and
condemn the statute outright.
Louisiana’s law has been around since the state became
part of the United States two centuries ago. Change can come about in two
ways. The Legislature could amend it or the courts could declare it
unconstitutional, most likely on grounds that it transgresses on the principle
But would altering the law as Jordan wants really change
Between 1988 and 1995, more than 2,000 people were
arrested under the law, according to a study by Dr. John Penny, a professor of
criminal justice and criminology at Southern University at New Orleans.
Of that number, 98.3 percent of the arrests were against
prostitutes and the rest against people performing sodomy in the home, the
So life wouldn’t change much for the people most
affected by the law, Rawls said.
If the sodomy law was thrown out altogether, Louisiana
would still have a statute that makes it a misdemeanor to commit prostitution.
Under the separate misdemeanor statute, a prostitute faces six months in jail
and a $500 fine for a first conviction.
A prosecutor can press felony charges under the sodomy
statute—making Louisiana the only state where it can be a felony to be
convicted of prostitution.
The sodomy law, as Jordan would have it, would be unfair
in other ways, Rawls said.
“If a man and woman commit sex in the old-fashioned way
in public, a first conviction is three years max, but if a man or woman commit
anal or oral sex it is a five-year felony,” Rawls said.
In addition, anyone convicted of sodomy must register as
a sex offender—like a child molester must register, Rawls said.
Nonetheless, as a high-profile personality in Louisiana
politics, Jordan’s Feb. 27 news release was “remarkable” for even
broaching the topic, Penny said.
And others are optimistic that Jordan’s support will
open the floor up for debate.
“I think his office holds a lot of power and I think it
will look good in the Legislature,” said Tim Hornback, executive director
for the Forum of Equality, a New Orleans-based civil rights organization that
has talked with Jordan about changing the law.
In 2001, half the members of the House of Representatives
voted to decriminalize sodomy in the home for consenting adults. A similar
amendment could be presented this year, said Christopher Daigle, chairman of
the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus.
But is this all academic?
Penny thinks it might be. “Given the climate of
pseudo-conservative attitudes that exist, I think we will have the law for a
long time unless the courts strike it down.”
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