Last edited: December 20, 2004


Louisiana House Splits on Sodomy Repeal

Southern Voice, May 24, 2001
Atlanta, GA

By Garry Boulard

BATON ROUGE, La.— A move to repeal the state’s 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 don’t want you in our bedroom,’" Richmond said.

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 Richmond’s bill.

"A lot of you have told me in private, ‘Man, I can’t 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 doesn’t 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 own district."

Martiny urged his fellow lawmakers to back the bill because he said Richmond’s measure "is not a referendum on any type of lifestyle. It is a referendum on privacy."

But that argument did not wash with the bill’s often vociferous detractors, including New Orleans radio talk show host Grant Storms, who said the possible repeal of Louisiana’s sodomy laws bothered him more than the workplace discrimination bill that protects gays under consideration in the full Senate.

"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 Richmond’s 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 Richmond’s bill would make it difficult to police and enforce public restrooms and parks.

But even an amendment to Richmond’s bill concerning public sex did not appear to satisfy the Baton Rouge lawmaker who, in the end, voted against Richmond’s bill.

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 measure.

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 year’s 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 HRC’s 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 constitution’s 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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