Sodomy Law Showdown Slated Before High Court
Baton Rouge Advocate,
March 15, 2000
525 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge, LA, 70821
By Joe Gyan Jr., New Orleans bureau
NEW ORLEANS The state Supreme Court will be the scene of a
showdown April 11 over the constitutionality of a 195-year-old Louisiana sodomy law a
state appellate court struck down last year.
The "crime against nature" law, which makes oral and anal sex between
consenting adults felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, applies equally to
homosexuals and heterosexuals, but gay men and lesbians say it targets them.
In throwing out the long-standing law in February 1999, a unanimous three-judge panel
of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said noncommercial, consensual oral and anal sex is
protected by the right to privacy in the Louisiana Constitution.
In its ruling, the 4th Circuit judges reversed Mitchell Smiths 1996 conviction
and sentence: a three-year suspended jail term and two years probation.
Smith was accused of raping a woman.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Patrick Quinlan acquitted him of rape, but found
him guilty of "crime against nature" because both Smith and the woman admitted
they engaged in oral sex.
Smith testified he had consensual oral sex with the woman.
Gay rights groups praised the 4th Circuit decision, saying it decriminalized their only
The Orleans Parish District Attorneys Office appealed the ruling to the state
The American Civil Liberties Union joined the case on Smiths behalf, arguing in
documents filed at the high court that the state has no compelling or even rational
interest to justify criminalizing private, noncommercial sexual activity between
consenting adults whatever their sexual orientation.
The executive director of the Louisiana ACLU, Joe Cook, said its time for the
high court to "get the states police out of the bedrooms of consenting adults
heterosexuals, gays and lesbians, married and unmarried alike who choose
oral sex as an important part of their intimate relationships."
The high court has consolidated Smiths case with a challenge from several accused
prostitutes who say the crime against nature law punishes accused prostitutes more
severely for soliciting oral sex rather than intercourse.
The accused prostitutes allegedly offered undercover police officers oral sex for
Under the crime against nature law, oral sex for money is punishable by up to five
years in prison. Prostitution, defined as offering intercourse for money or trade, is a
misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months.
In the Smith case, the 4th Circuit judges said they examined constitutional cases on
sodomy laws in other states, rejecting arguments that sodomy is immoral, discourages
procreation and leads to short-lived and shallow relationships.
The judges also cited a 6-1 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court in November 1998 that
struck down that states 165-year-old sodomy law because of privacy rights guaranteed
in the Georgia Constitution.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgias sodomy law by a 5-4 vote, saying
consenting adults have no constitutional right to private homosexual conduct.
That decision prompted gay rights advocates to file suits in state courts saying sodomy
laws violate state constitutions.
Another challenge to Louisianas sodomy law also has made its way to the Louisiana
Supreme Court, but no hearing has been set.
The case, which involves a 1994 lawsuit filed in state court by several gay men and
lesbians and the Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians, likewise raises privacy
concerns but also contends the sodomy law unfairly targets gays for punishment and
legitimizes hatred of homosexuals.
In that case, Orleans Parish Civil District Judge Carolyn Gill Jefferson threw out the
law last March on privacy grounds.
The state had argued gay men and lesbians chose their sexual orientation and the law
was needed to promote marriage and encourage procreation.
The state also says it has the authority to outlaw immoral conduct and impose penalties
for engaging in it.
Self-proclaimed gay lawyer John Rawls of New Orleans, who represents the gay men and
lesbians in the civil case, has called the crime against nature law "Louisianas
official condemnation of its lesbian and gay citizens."
The civil suit claims the law is "viciously directed" against gays and
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