Last edited: January 03, 2005


Changing Sodomy Law Wouldn’t Affect Many

New 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 without consent.

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 of privacy.

But would altering the law as Jordan wants really change much?

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 study found.

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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