Louisiana Court Upholds Sodomy Law
Ruling Calls Oral and Anal Sex An Injury Against Society Itself
July 14, 2000
By Lou Chibbaro Jr.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on July 6 upheld that states 200-year-old sodomy law,
saying the laws classification of oral and anal sex as a crime even if
committed by consenting adults in the privacy of their homes does not violate a
privacy rights clause in the state constitution.
In a 5-2 ruling, the court declared that the Louisiana State Legislature has the sole
authority to pass or repeal sodomy laws and that any claim that such laws violate the
states constitution are "unsupportable."
"There has never been any doubt that the legislature, in the exercise of its
police power, has authority to criminalize the commission of acts which, without regard to
the infliction of any other injury, are considered immoral," Justice Chet Traylor
wrote for the majority.
"Simply put," Traylor declared, "commission of what the legislature
determines as an immoral act, even if consensual and private, is an injury against society
In a strongly worded dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Pascal Calogero wrote that the
Louisiana Constitution protects citizens against "unreasonable searches, seizures,
and invasions of privacy," and those protections cover sexual relations between
"I am of the opinion that the government has no legitimate interest or compelling
reasons for regulating, through criminal statutes, adult, private, non-commercial,
consensual acts of sexual intimacy," he wrote.
Michael Adams, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Unions Lesbian
and Gay Rights Project, said the Louisiana courts decision goes against a clear
trend set by other state supreme courts, which have overturned sodomy laws in recent
years. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in the Louisiana case calling on the court to
overturn the state sodomy law.
Adams noted that state supreme courts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, and Maryland
each have overturned their states sodomy laws in the 1990s. He said the privacy
rights clauses in the constitutions of those states are similar to the one in the
Louisiana constitution. Because of this, Adams said, he believes the Louisiana court based
its decision more on conservative political leanings than on legal grounds.
"The outcome of these cases is often determined when the justices determine the
political climate is ready for change," Adams said. "The political climate in
Louisiana is quite conservative."
In his majority opinion, Traylor stated repeatedly that the court would be overstepping
its bounds if it overturned the Louisiana sodomy law because some feel it is an unjust or
outdated statute. "Courts do not rule on the social wisdom of statutes, nor their
workability in practice," he wrote. "If a crime or a penalty is not defined to
reflect current societal values, it is for the legislature, not the courts, to reflect
But in his dissenting opinion, Calogero stated, "[T]he legislature cannot validly
enact a law that impermissibly infringes upon a constitutional guarantee. ... And when
there is doubt as to the scope of protection afforded by a constitutional guarantee, it is
the province, and in fact the duty, of this court to interpret the law."
The case on which the Louisiana high court ruled, State of
Louisiana vs. Michael Smith, stems from a September 1995 incident in which
authorities charged Smith with sexually assaulting a woman he met in a bar and whom he
invited to a hotel room. The woman testified she voluntarily joined Smith in the hotel
room but did not consent to sex. A judge, following a non-jury trial, found Smith not
guilty of a charge of simple rape but convicted Smith on a lesser count of simple crime
against nature (oral sex). The judge sentenced Smith to a three-year suspended jail term.
Smith appealed his conviction to Louisianas Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The
appeals court overturned the conviction on grounds that the states sodomy statute
violates the privacy rights clause of the state constitution. The state Supreme Court
ruling on July 6 vacated the appeals court decision and reinstated Smiths
[Home] [News] [Louisiana]