Louisiana House Splits on Sodomy Repeal
May 24, 2001
By Garry Boulard
BATON ROUGE, La. A move to repeal the states
195-year-old sodomy law stalled last week when the House split a vote 46-46,
failing to gain the 53 votes needed to pass the measure.
Another close vote was expected Tuesday, when the state Senate considers a
measure to ban workplace discrimination against gays.
Conservatives hailed the split vote in the House as a defeat for a sodomy
repeal they said was a move to bolster the "homosexual lifestyle."
Gay civil rights activists are claiming a partial victory in the vote.
"[A close vote] shows that, not only are lesbian and gay people
getting the kind of support they need in various state legislatures,"
said David Smith, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign Fund,
a gay lobby in Washington, D.C. "But it also indicates that many straight
people, too, see these kinds of laws as oppressive."
Because of the tie vote, the sodomy repeal is expected to be reintroduced
before the legislative session ends on June 18.
The bill was approved by a 5 to 3 vote in the House Criminal Justice
Committee on May 15, and was sponsored by state Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New
Orleans). The bill seeks to make legal all private, non-commercial sexual
acts-including oral and anal sodomy-between consenting adults in the state.
"[The bill] says, Big Brother, we dont want you in our bedroom,"
Richmond called the measure a "privacy bill" and refused to
classify it as a gay civil rights proposal because it would affect both same-
and opposite-sex couples.
That argument appeared to be persuasive in the full House debate on the
bill on May 16, a day after the committee cote.
But once lobbied by members of the Christian Coalition and other
conservative evangelical groups who were adamantly opposed to the measure,
several lawmakers said that they were concerned about the possible political
ramifications in their home districts if they supported Richmonds bill.
"A lot of you have told me in private, Man, I cant vote for this
bill; those religious people back home will kill me," said state Rep.
Daniel Martiny (R-Kenner). "We need to show a little courage and stand up
and say, The current law doesnt make any sense."
Martiny recalled the words of legendary U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who
once said he could never respect any "damn member who was afraid of his
Martiny urged his fellow lawmakers to back the bill because he said
Richmonds measure "is not a referendum on any type of lifestyle. It is
a referendum on privacy."
But that argument did not wash with the bills often vociferous
detractors, including New Orleans radio talk show host Grant Storms, who said
the possible repeal of Louisianas sodomy laws bothered him more than the
workplace discrimination bill that protects gays under consideration in the
"This is far more serious than anyone can know," Storms said last
week as he organized a delegation of protesters on a trip to Baton Rouge to
lobby against Richmonds bill.
State Rep. Tony Perkins (R-Baton Rouge) voiced the principal opposition to
the measure on the House floor. Perkins authored the controversial 1997
"Covenant Marriages Laws," which "puts Louisiana in the
forefront of protecting the family," he said.
The measure required that any couple seeking a divorce could only do so
after a two-years separation or if abuse or adultery could be proven in court.
In debate over the sodomy repeal, Perkins charged that "this
legislation has nothing to do with what married couples do in their bedrooms.
It has everything to do with legitimizing homosexuality."
Perkins passed around to his fellow lawmakers correspondence he said he had
received from a Baton Rouge parks supervisor who worried that Richmonds
bill would make it difficult to police and enforce public restrooms and parks.
But even an amendment to Richmonds bill concerning public sex did not
appear to satisfy the Baton Rouge lawmaker who, in the end, voted against
Some 45 other members of the House joined Perkins in a vote against the
measure. Splitting the vote evenly, some 46 members also voted to approve the
Both sides fell short of the necessary 53 votes to kill the measure, or to
move the bill to the state Senate. Twelve members did not vote.
Richmond vowed to bring the bill up for another vote before the end of this
years session on June 18.
"The fact that it was close, especially in a Southern state like
Louisiana, tells me that there is a growing momentum to overturn these old
sodomy laws," the HRCs Smith said. "I really do think that the
writing is on the wall."
According to statistics compiled by the National Conference of State
Legislatures and the ACLU, 25 states and the District of Columbia have
repealed their sodomy laws through legislative action.
In March, Civil District Court Judge Carolyn W. Gill-Jefferson ruled that
the sodomy law violates the state constitutions privacy provision. The
judge issued a permanent injunction against the statute, which calls anal and
oral sexual acts between adults in their homes immoral and punishable by up to
five years in prison and $2,000 in fines.
The ruling was expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
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