(Washington, DC) – The Louisiana state legislature should swiftly repeal its discriminatory “crime against nature” laws, which are used to harass lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. On April 16, 2014, the Louisiana State House of Representatives voted 66 to 27 to reject House bill 12, which would have repealed the US state’s anti-sodomy law. The law was enacted in 1805.
The “crime against nature” law subjects adults engaged in consensual oral or anal sex to up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,000. The US Supreme Court has ruled that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional, leaving Louisiana’s laws unenforceable. But Human Rights Watch has documented that these laws create inequities and promote discrimination against LGBT people, as well as poor people of color, through discriminatory enforcement and the stigma associated with the charge.
“Louisiana’s failure to repeal the ‘crime against nature’ laws is a startling act of state-endorsed homophobia,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “These unconstitutional provisions invite local police to illegally intimidate, harass, and arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual same-sex relations.”
The defeated legislation to repeal the law was introduced after it was revealed that 12 men in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana had been arrested under the provision – although not formally charged – between 2011 and 2014. On July 18, 2013, a man was arrested for “attempted crimes against nature” after he met an undercover law enforcement officer and agreed to accompany the officer to his apartment. No money was exchanged and there was no plan to have sex in public. District Attorney Hillar Moore III later dropped all 12 cases and said that the law was unenforceable.
Advocates of the state’s “crimes against nature” laws – including the Christian Louisiana Family Forum, which distributed a letter to state legislators opposing repeal efforts – falsely claimed that repeal would have removed protections for children against sexual assault. The repeal bill would have simply removed the unconstitutional language from the state’s criminal code, while maintaining the state’s numerous existing protections for children.
On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Court ruled six to three in Lawrence v. Texas that state laws banning consensual same-sex conduct are unconstitutional as a violation of the right to privacy. Since April 2013, state legislators in Montana and Virginia have repealed their state’s anti-sodomy laws. Despite these encouraging developments, 12 US states retain anti-sodomy laws that illegally discriminate against LGBT people. In addition to Louisiana, they are: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
In 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in the case of Toonen v. Australia that laws criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct between adults violate the rights to nondiscrimination and privacy. The committeemonitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the US is party.
“Louisiana’s failure to repeal the ‘crime against nature’ laws not only sends a negative symbolic message, but also shows its disregard for basic human rights to privacy and free expression,” Reid said. “Until these discriminatory laws are repealed, the door remains open for police abuse of LGBT people and other minority communities in Louisiana.”