By Nick BeJeaux
Eleven years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Laws illegal – a handful of lawmakers sought to repeal it, but they failed and continued to fail every year after.
This year was no exception. Even though House Bill 12 was reported favorably by the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee, the bill was still defeated on the House floor, 27-66. Critics of the vote say it would have been closer, or even passed, if certain members of the House and supporters kept their word.
Notably, the chairman of the Louisiana House Criminal Justice Committee, Joe Lopinto, endorsed the repeal of CAN laws in an Aug. 2013 interview with the Advocate. He voted nay.
“[Lopinto] also told an EQLA volunteer on the phone during this legislative session that he had no problem with the bill at all,” said Matthew Patterson, research and policy coordinator for Equality Louisiana. “I don’t know what happened to change his mind, but as a lawyer and former law enforcement officer, he should absolutely know better than to vote the way he voted today. Whether or not you like a law or not, the Constitution says what it says, and the courts have been very clear on this area of the law in the last decade.”
During the debate on the House floor, the voices of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association’s Director, Michael Ranatza, and the Executive Director of the Louisiana’s District Attorney Association, Pete Adams – who said they would offer support for the bill – were silent. The opposition, however, from Family Forum representative Darrell White
was loud and clear, yelling that this repeal would flood parks and other public spaces with displays of man-on-man anal sex.
Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton rouge, is the bill’s author and maintained throughout the debate that the purpose of the bill is to make law enforcement more efficient and regrets that White and other opponents couldn’t see that.
“I was indeed disappointed that some of those who got the bill out of committee did not vote on the floor,” said Smith. “The status of the law did not change from committee to floor. I am alarmed that the Family Forum has such a hold on this legislature and they believe any information given to them carte blanche. I can’t say if it would have passed on the floor if they had voted yes. The jury is out for next year; we will determine that over the break.”
Last summer, no less than 16 people were illegally arrested for violating this statute. Many, if not all, hadn’t even taken their pants off before deputies from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office or EBR Police officers put them in handcuffs. Even then, these laws were viewed redundant and inefficient. District Attorney Hillar Moore dismissed the charges against the “offenders,” saying the law is unenforceable.
“The sting operations you saw in the news were bad operations,” said Metro Councilman John Delgado. “The people who were arrested were not committing any lewd or indecent behavior in public – they weren’t even talking about it in the parks that they were supposedly going to have sex in. They were arrested for having a private conversation in their car on the way to the hotel where the operation was based.”
Delgado also said this vote shows just how behind Louisiana is compared to more tolerant states, and it’s the bigots that are holding the state back.
“We have told the world that we are a bigoted state, culture and people that would rather make a hurtful statement than help someone,” he said. “Former Judge Darrell White is everything wrong with Louisiana. I don’t understand how someone can open their mouth and say such senseless, venomous and false things about another person they don’t even know. He’s a bigot – there’s no difference between him and Fred Phelps.”
Patterson also feels betrayed.
“I have to tell you, I am not happy – not as an LGBT advocate, a gay person, or a resident of this state.” he saids. “Every Sheriff in that association swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state. To shrink in the face of that obligation because of opposition from the Family Forum or because anyone somehow perceived this bill as doing something other than repealing an unconstitutional law is a slap in the face of every citizen they swore to protect, and it’s a particular insult to those communities that are often targeted for discriminatory policing under the CAN law and other such statutes.”