Several groups joined together Feb. 16 to file a federal civil rights challenge against Louisiana's crimes-against-nature statute. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Loyola Law Clinic and private-practice attorney Andrea J. Ritchie brought the challenge on behalf of nine anonymous plaintiffs who were charged with violating the statute, which is a felony in Louisiana. The crime of soliciting for prostitution, on the other hand, is a misdemeanor in the Bayou State.
The statute criminalizes "unnatural copulation" — generally accepted as oral and anal sex — while not mentioning vaginal sex, an interpretation the groups claim has been used to target gay and transgendered people.
A Louisiana resident convicted of a crime against nature — even a consensual one — must register with the state for a minimum of 15 years and send periodic notices to neighbors and neighboring businesses, as well as have the words "Sex Offender" stamped on his or her Louisiana identification card in orange letters. The notification process is the same one that must be obeyed by people convicted of child molestation and rape, which the law groups claim unfairly stigmatizes sexual minorities by associating their behavior with that of violent criminals. "The toll it takes is devastating," says Deon Haywood, executive director of the New Orleans group Women With a Vision. "I have worked with women affected by this every day."
"This archaic law is being used to mark people with a modern-day scarlet letter without any justification," says CCR attorney Alexis Agathocleous. "Our clients pose no threat to anyone. None of them has ever been convicted of a sex offense involving children, violence or force. Their inclusion on the sex offender registry violates basic constitutional equal protection principles and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."
In last year's legislative session, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, introduced a bill that reduced the penalty for a first crime-against-nature conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, a bill signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal. But the legal groups representing the plaintiffs in this case say Louisiana's definition of crimes against nature is unique in the United States. "No other state in the country requires [those convicted of crimes against nature] to register as sex offenders," Ritchie says.
The original crimes-against-nature statute was adopted by Louisiana in 1805. — Kevin Allman