People convicted under Louisiana's centuries-old law against solicitation of "crimes against nature" no longer have to register as sex offenders, thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal's signing of HB 141 last year — and to a recent federal court decision.
The law passed last year equalizes the penalties for prostitution and solicitation of "crimes against nature" (oral and anal sex), including not having to register as sex offenders — but that law was not retroactive. That meant that persons previously convicted of solicitation of crimes against nature remained on a long list of sex offenders. Persons convicted of prostitution never had to register.
All that changed in late March when U.S. District Judge Martin L. C. Feldman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, granted a motion by unnamed plaintiffs challenging the unequal treatment of persons previously convicted of solicitation. The judge agreed that it was unconstitutional to leave persons previously convicted of the offense on the list, while those convicted of solicitation after the law took effect are not listed. The federal suit was filed last year against Jindal, in his capacity as governor, and others.
"The defendants fail to credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest that can rationally explain the registration requirement," Feldman wrote. The judge added, "The issue presented in this case is not about approval or disapproval of sexual beliefs or mores. It is about the mandate of equality that is enshrined in the Constitution."
Unless overturned by a higher court, Feldman's ruling will remove the plaintiffs' names as well as hundreds others from the state's sex offender registry.
The 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, yet eight states, including Louisiana, still prohibit crimes against nature. The Louisiana statute is more than 200 years old. In 2005, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down a statute criminalizing certain consensual sex acts, but the court upheld the solicitation statute. — Alex Woodward