Court Upholds 197-Year-Old Sodomy Law
Privacy Rights Aren’t Violated, Justices Say
Times-Picayune, March 29, 2002
By Tara Young, Staff writer/The Times-Picayune
Marking the latest lost battle for gay rights activists, the state Supreme
Court refused to strike down Louisiana’s 197-year-old ban on oral and anal
sex Thursday, saying it would contradict a precedent set by the court on a
similar challenge two years ago.
In a unanimous vote, the state Supreme Court said the law does not violate
the privacy rights provided to citizens under the state Constitution, as the
Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians Inc. charged when it filed its civil
case in 1994.
To support its decision, the court revisited a July 2000 ruling involving a
criminal case in which a man was acquitted of rape but found guilty of
engaging in oral sex.
In that case, the court ruled 5-2 that the law did not violate privacy
Thursday’s ruling addressed the civil lawsuit filed by the group that
claims the sodomy law is unconstitutional. The suit focused again on the
issues of privacy.
Three years ago, when the civil case went before Civil District Court Judge
Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, she ruled in favor of the group.
Though the high court reversed Gill-Jefferson’s decision Thursday, it
returned the suit to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal to address 11 other
challenges, including discrimination, enforcement and other perceived stigmas
related to lesbian, gay and transgender people that weren’t addressed by the
New Orleans lawyer John Rawls, who filed the suit, said the law is a
political hot potato.
"I am sick and tired of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and the state
Supreme Court punting this case back and forth between them," Rawls said.
"Frankly, the courts of Louisiana should be embarrassed that after 10
years, the longest-running sodomy challenge in U.S. history is nowhere near
"While this case has been pending, the courts of Tennessee, Montana,
Maryland, Minnesota and Georgia have all thrown out their sodomy laws, and the
legislatures of Nevada and Rhode Island have done the same," Rawls said.
"If the right to privacy doesn’t protect a married couple’s
bedroom, then it doesn’t protect anything."
State Rep. Tony Perkins, R-Baker, a leader in the successful legislative
fight against a bill to change the law last year, did not immediately return a
call for comment Thursday night.
In the past, Perkins has challenged arguments that the law is an invasion
of married couples’ privacy.
"The heart of this legislation has nothing to do with what married
couples choose to do. This has everything to do with legitimizing
homosexuality," Perkins said last year.
Randal Beach, president of the Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians,
said the justices have failed to uphold citizens’ rights to privacy as
provided by the state Constitution.
The law would have been erased from the books a decade ago if Louisiana’s
Supreme Court wasn’t made up of elected justices, he said.
"They are afraid of retribution at the ballot box," Beach said.
Unfortunately, the Louisiana sodomy law isn't 197 years old and the ban on
oral sex wasn't in the original 1805 law. The current sodomy law dates from
1982. Oral sex was added to the law in 1896.
— George Painter
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