By Meredith Bennett-Smith for HuffPost.
Law enforcement in Baton Rouge have reportedly been using an invalid, unconstitutional law to target and arrest adult gay men, according to a new report.
The Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office sting was revealed on Saturday by the Baton Rouge Advocate, which investigated the arrests of at least a dozen Louisiana gay men since 2011 who agreed to consensual gay sex with undercover officers. In all of the cases, the men were arrested under the state’s anti-sodomy law, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.
Technically invalid yet still on the books, the state’s “Crime Against Nature” law prohibits “unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same-sex or opposite-sex or with an animal” along with “solicitation by a human being of another with the intent to engage in any unnatural carnal copulation for compensation,” according to Louisiana legislature.
“This is a law that is currently on the Louisiana books, and the sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana Legislature,” Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Whether the law is valid is something for the courts to determine, but the sheriff will enforce the laws that are enacted.”
However, the Advocate also revealed that none of these cases had been prosecuted by District Attorney Hillar Moore III, whose office could find no evidence of any crime being committed by any of the arrested men.
While Hicks argued that the fact that the men agreed to sex in a public park made their actions illegal, Equality Louisiana’s Bruce Parker told MSNBC.com that this claim carried little legitimacy as no sex ever actually happened in the park and most of the men intended to have sex at a private residence.
“They started a conversation and the officer invited him back,” Parker said. “That’s a conversation that could happen anywhere. It’s the equivalent of me asking you out in a Post Office.”
As outrage from advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community grew over the weekend, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office posted two statement on its Facebook page. The first was a defense of the policy, which claimed that department was not trying to target or embarrass any particular community.
“When we receive calls from the public about lewd activity near our children, we have to respond,” the statement reads. “Our park operations, conducted at the specific request of the BREC Park’s Ranger, were an attempt to deter or stop lewd activity occurring in the park near children… The deputies used a statute that they felt fit the situation in order to remedy the concerns of the parents and park officials.”
However, one hour and several Facebook comments later the department posted a second, more conciliatory status:
“The goal of our statement was to express our intent to the public, which was to keep the parks safe. We admit, however, the approach needs to change. We are not making excuses, simply stating we will learn from this, make changes and move forward. We will be working with all branches of government to find a better solution for keeping our parks safe. Thanks to all for their input.”
While it appears that law enforcement in Louisiana may be rethinking any further application of the anti-sodomy statutes, ThinkProgress notes that similar laws remain on the books in over a dozen other states. In fact, two years ago a Michigan sheriff’s office was revealed to be executing similar stings against gay men in the area.
UPDATE on July 29 at 2:45pm ET: The East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s office has released a statement with an apology which note, “While sections of La. R.S. 14:89, Crimes Against Nature, have not been removed from the Louisiana law code, they have been deemed unenforceable and unconstitutional. The Sheriff’s Office will not use these unconstitutional sections of the law in future cases.”