Not every bill a legislator files is to make new law. Sometimes a bill is needed to repeal an old law. Such was the case Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice committee.
“No matter what you might think about the language, it is unconstitutional,” said Baton Rouge Representative Pat Smith, in reference to the state’s sodomy law, also known as “crime against nature”, and her bill to repeal it.
Though struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputies made national headlines last summer when they used the law to arrest gay men in their homes. The district attorney declined to prosecute those cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Lawrence v. Texas invalidated sodomy laws in 14 states, including Louisiana. The majority opinion said, “Private consensual sexual behavior between consenting adults cannot be forbidden, absent a compelling government interest.”
Those who spoke in opposition to Smith’s bill argued that Louisiana does have a “compelling interest” in continuing to prohibit homosexual acts, even in private.
“This is a public health issue,” said retired physician Gerry Melilli, noting that Baton Rouge leads the nation in cases of AIDS. The founder of Christian Life Academy added, “This behavior causes at least 14-thousand-plus deaths every year in the United States.”
Bill Smith with the Louisiana Family Forum told committee members that sodomy is the primary avenue for AIDS transmission, and said that AIDS kills.
“I’m here out of love and concern for the health of these people, but the fact is this opens up ways for them to kill themselves,” Smith said.
Fran White, wife of retired Baton Rouge City Court Judge Darrell White, told lawmakers the people back home might not approve of repealing the sodomy law.
“I wonder if your constituents might not evaluate your vote on this bill today as perhaps promoting those kinds of activities,” White suggested.
Despite her warning, committee members voted 9 to 6 to advance the repeal bill to the full House.