Louisiana Republicans Fight to Keep Unenforceable Anti-Sodomy Law

May 1, 2018
Louisiana State Seal

A new anti-bestiality bill has passed the Louisiana Senate despite pushback from 10 Republican members who fear the law would help overturn existing sodomy laws.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, who proposed the bill, said the state’s current law—which bundles bestiality and sodomy together as illegal “crimes against nature”—is unenforceable and thus needs to be updated.

State laws prohibiting “crimes against nature” have historically been used to target LGBT citizens. However, such state laws were rendered unconstitutional by 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, in which Houston police arrested two men for engaging in a sexual act in petitioner Lawrence’s own home. The court ruled that consenting adults have “the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention from the government.”

Nevertheless, anti-sodomy laws remain on the books in 12 states—Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

For many Louisianans, striking the old law and replacing it with an updated law on bestiality is just common sense.

“We don’t need inefficient laws on the books,” Rep. Patricia Smith told USA Today in 2014, during a prior Louisiana Senate attempt to repeal the anti-sodomy law.

Morrell, Senate Bill 236’s sponsor, argues that new online marketplaces for the illegal buying and selling of animal for sex requires updated laws that target both practitioners and facilitators of bestiality.

“I don’t think there are enough ways to say bestiality is not allowed in the state of Louisiana,” Morrell said in a committee meeting.

“God forbid you vote against this bill,” Morrell later warned fellow Senators. “Good luck explaining it.”

For 10 Republican state Senators, however, protecting the current “crimes against nature” law was worth voting against an otherwise non-partisan goal of expanding laws against bestiality. Sen. Ryan Gatti, one of the Republicans that voted against the bill, said he feared the bill would “be used as a Trojan horse to delete the sodomy law.”

Gatti told the Associated Press, “This bill was written because the far left wants to undermine our other laws that protect family and traditional values that the people of Louisiana hold dear.”

Conservative Christian group Louisiana Family Forum has lobbied against the bill on similar grounds. LFF executive director Gene Mills said the current law “spells out community standards of morality.”

“We believe Louisiana law is instructional in nature and is written to reflect the values of the citizens of the state,” Mills told the Times-Picayune. “The last thing we need is another law on the books.”

While Morrell’s interest in separating bestiality from sodomy in order to make an enforceable and comprehensive law against bestiality, Louisiana police have tested the enforceability of anti-sodomy laws in recent years.

In 2013, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office made a public apology for sending undercover deputies to arrange sexual encounters with local gay men and then arresting them under suspicion of  “crimes against nature,” according to the Times-Picayune. Because the Lawrence v. Texas ruling had rendered Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional a decade prior, the Sheriff’s Office was forced to apologize and drop all charges against the men involved.

In the years following the Lawrence v. Texas ruling, several states have repealed their anti-sodomy laws, while still other states have expanded their laws against bestiality to reflect new concerns regarding animal sex trafficking.

Morrell expressed his hopes that the bill, which will now go on to the state House of Representatives for a vote, will give bestiality its own clear law and allow law enforcement “to prosecute individuals that do this under the fullest extent of the law.”

As to whether he would choose to strike down the former “crimes against humanity law,” Morrell said there was no reason to keep it.

“Our current bestiality law is in an unconstitutional statute, literally tied to the sodomy law struck down by the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas,” Morrell told the committee. “If we create a new armed robbery law, we don’t keep the old one on the books while we test drive it.”

--by Caroline Matas

Image Source: Louisiana State Seal, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.