Last edited: February 14, 2005


Louisiana Sodomy Law Survives Repeal Effort

Datalounge, June 21, 2001
Source: Southern Voice

By Mike Fleming

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate voted June 13 to renounce the state’s sodomy law, in the form of an amendment to a House bill that fine-tunes some aspects of Louisiana’s existing sex offender registration laws. Although a legislative committee stripped the amendment from the bill two days later, gay activists nevertheless called the Senate’s vote "the beginning of the end" of the sodomy law.

Meanwhile, the last week of the state’s legislative session showed progress on other gay civil rights issues, including a measure providing domestic violence protective orders for dating partners that covers same-sex couples.

State Sen. Charles Jones (D-Monroe) moved to introduce the sodomy amendment to House Bill 2047 by state Rep. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie), which would toughen the state’s mandatory sex-offender registration laws. The amendment would decriminalize private, noncommercial sex acts between consenting adults.

"At some point, we must recognize that government intrusion into our private lives has to stop," Jones said. "We still have the right to privacy under the Louisiana Constitution."

The 196-year-old state sodomy law makes it illegal to engage in oral or anal sex, even when committed in private by consenting adults. The law applies to gay, straight, married or unmarried couples.

Jones lobbied the Senate to do what House colleagues didn’t on May 17, when a similar bill failed on a 46-46 vote, said Melinda Shelton, executive director of Louisiana Lesbian & Gay Political Action Caucus. LAGPAC orchestrated the amendment by working with senators to catch opposition off guard, she said.

The bill went back to the House June 15 and was referred to a conference committee. Martiny advised the committee at that time to strip the amendment, and they did. The measure, as all unfinished business, was expected to die on Monday when the legislative session ended.

"Even though we have not turned over the sodomy law yet, I still count the Senate’s willingness to fight [the Crimes Against Nature statute] as another in a long list of victories this session," Shelton said.

In another move, the state Senate joined the state House in approving domestic violence protections for dating couples under the state’s Domestic Abuse Assistance Act. In a 34-4 vote in favor of a bill by Rep. Jackie Clarkson (R-New Orleans), the Senate moved the bill to the governor’s desk for final approval.

Conservative state Rep. Tony Perkins (R-Baker) moved to amend the bill to exclude same-sex couples when it was up for debate in the House. The House approved the bill without Perkins’ amendment. In a similar stance, Sen. "Clo" Fontenot (R-Livingston) made the same plea to the Senate, but the body denied his efforts.

"[Assuming the bill is signed], dating couples can apply for court-administered protective orders against violent dating partners," Shelton said. "Protective orders carry far greater legal weight than temporary restraining orders that can be obtained against people who threaten an individual."

Legal experts agreed.

"Jackie Clarkson’s bill closes an important loophole," said Ayn Stehr, legal advisor to the Louisiana Protective Order Registry. "At least now the people who are affected by violence and who aren’t married or in otherwise ‘sanctioned’ relationships have an avenue to seek protection."

If the governor signs the bill, the law would go into effect on Aug. 15, Stehr said.

At the beginning of the 2001 legislative session, gay lobbyists said there were no gay-specific issues on the roster, but that there were some ideas brewing, which later saw the light of day during the session, said Chris Daigle, co-chair of LAGPAC.

"It was a very busy session," Daigle said. "We saw the beginning of the end for sodomy laws in Louisiana, workplace protection for gay men and lesbians was passed out of committee and saw close and heavy debate for the first time on the full Senate floor, and [Fontenot’s] anti-civil unions bill was defeated."

LAGPAC can count a consistently improving coalition building effort among reasons for their success this year, Daigle said. Both labor lobbyists and the ACLU can be counted among LAGPAC allies that will serve gay rights well into the future, he said.

Continuing the coalition effort will be the focus of LAGPAC’s off time, Shelton said.

"There is a lot of work to be done," she said. "My goal is the formation of a coalition of progressive organizations to fight this still greatly homophobic [legislative] body."

Groups to include in their efforts include Planned Parenthood, social workers’ lobbies, labor, education and AIDS activists, Shelton said.

"The far right is highly organized and conniving in their efforts," Shelton said. "We’ve got to fight those efforts with ever-increasing intensity."

A legal effort to repeal the measure is moving through the courts.

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