Court upholds 197-year-old sodomy law

Privacy rights aren't violated, justices say

03/29/02

By Tara Young
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

Marking the latest lost battle for gay rights activists, the state Supreme Court refused to strike down Louisiana's 197-year-old ban on oral and anal sex Thursday, saying it would contradict a precedent set by the court on a similar challenge two years ago.

In a unanimous vote, the state Supreme Court said the law does not violate the privacy rights provided to citizens under the state Constitution, as the Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians Inc. charged when it filed its civil case in 1994.

To support its decision, the court revisited a July 2000 ruling involving a criminal case in which a man was acquitted of rape but found guilty of engaging in oral sex.

In that case, the court ruled 5-2 that the law did not violate privacy rights.

Thursday's ruling addressed the civil lawsuit filed by the group that claims the sodomy law is unconstitutional. The suit focused again on the issues of privacy.

Three years ago, when the civil case went before Civil District Court Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, she ruled in favor of the group.

Though the high court reversed Gill-Jefferson's decision Thursday, it returned the suit to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal to address 11 other challenges, including discrimination, enforcement and other perceived stigmas related to lesbian, gay and transgender people that weren't addressed by the appellate court.

New Orleans lawyer John Rawls, who filed the suit, said the law is a political hot potato.

"I am sick and tired of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court punting this case back and forth between them," Rawls said.

"Frankly, the courts of Louisiana should be embarrassed that after 10 years, the longest-running sodomy challenge in U.S. history is nowhere near its end.

"While this case has been pending, the courts of Tennessee, Montana, Maryland, Minnesota and Georgia have all thrown out their sodomy laws, and the legislatures of Nevada and Rhode Island have done the same," Rawls said.

"If the right to privacy doesn't protect a married couple's bedroom, then it doesn't protect anything."

State Rep. Tony Perkins, R-Baker, a leader in the successful legislative fight against a bill to change the law last year, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday night.

In the past, Perkins has challenged arguments that the law is an invasion of married couples' privacy.

"The heart of this legislation has nothing to do with what married couples choose to do. This has everything to do with legitimizing homosexuality," Perkins said last year.

Randal Beach, president of the Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians, said the justices have failed to uphold citizens' rights to privacy as provided by the state Constitution.

The law would have been erased from the books a decade ago if Louisiana's Supreme Court wasn't made up of elected justices, he said.

"They are afraid of retribution at the ballot box," Beach said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tara Young can be reached at

tyoung@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3301.

ŠThe Times-Picayune. Used with permission.