Lawrence v. Texas, decided 6-3 by the Supreme Court in 2003, struck down an anti-sodomy law in Texas – effectively invalidating 13 other state-wide anti-sodomy laws on the books in the United States. This decision remains a victory for gay rights advocates, but when news surfaced recently of Louisiana law enforcement effectively ignoring the precedent set by Lawrence, we all got a reminder of how deeply entrenched heterosexism and homophobia remain in our communities and our legal system.
This week it was revealed that at least a dozen men in Baton Rouge have been arrested by East Baton Rouge Parish police since 2011 because they accepted an undercover male officer’s offer of consensual sex at a private residence while in a public park. Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law, despite having been deemed “unenforceable” by the state’s 2003 Attorney General, was the justification for the arrests. Various public officials have come to the defense of the arrests, asserting that they were made in order to maintain “park safety” or to protect the city’s children from “lewd acts.” Although none of these cases have been prosecuted, the arrests, jail time, fines, and humiliation these men have been subjected to are inherently unlawful in the eyes of the Supreme Court, and have been for ten years.
This story continues to garner national attention from media outlets and activists, shocking readers everywhere who even vaguely remember their SCOTUS history. Readers who gasp at the existence of a seemingly out of date anti-sodomy law in Louisiana should consider the 14 other states that boast a similar or identical law on their books. Despite undeniable progress made by the LGBT rights movement, we are still witness to systematic forces of conservative opposition that seek to “outlaw gay” in the most literal terms. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has recently been preaching the importance of anti-sodomy laws, characterizing LGBT citizens as “sexual predators.” (The scariest part? This guy is running for governor.)
Baton Rouge’s story is a small part of a much bigger problem: the rampant homophobia that pervades the whole country (in many cases, by way of being written into our very laws).