House Bill 12 from state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, which would remove consensual oral and anal sex from the state's "crimes against nature" statute, passed today's House Administration of Criminal Justice committee. The language already was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.
"This bill is a cleanup bill. That’s all it is," Smith said. "No matter what you think about the language, it’s unconstitutional."
Between 2011 and 2013, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office made arrests under the state's anti-sodomy crimes against nature statute. East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III later apologized and pledged to work to remove the language from the law. Smith's repeal also saw support from East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, Louisiana Sheriffs Association director Michael Ranatza, and Pete Adams, director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
In a February statement, Equality Louisiana president Tim West said, "This bill is a common sense solution to a silly problem. It just makes sense to remove an unenforceable law from the books." He also called opposition from Gene Mills and his conservative Christian group the Louisiana Family Forum "unambiguous discrimination."
In today's meeting, opposition to the bill came out in full force. The Louisiana Family Forum's Bill Smith said while he wasn't present “to make a moral judgment” he said the bill would not address the AIDS crisis in Louisiana and Baton Rouge, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in the U.S. "This [bill] opens up ways for them to kill themselves," he said.
Opponents also said they are against the bill because it would remove penalties against crimes against children under 17 — which isn't the case; the bill only repeals provisions of crime against nature relative to consensual, uncompensated sex.
Chuck Lowman with the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge said he's "concerned where we are as a society" and "concerned about where this is leading."
"While we have to comply with Supreme Court decisions, we don’t have to eliminate the punishments for this kind of behavior," he said.
"Immorality does not stand still," said retired judge Darrell White. He said his daughter, who was accepted to but did not attend Pepperdine University, "might have been confronted by someone who looks like Pete Adams with a dress on" in a university bathroom if it did not prohibit transgender students.
Dr. Gerry Melilli, who founded Baton Rouge's Christian Life Academy, said the bill presents a public health issue, and that "to remove a barrier for the health and welfare of the population is irresponsible."
Fran White asked the committee to vote against the bill to "give your support to committed married relationships." She also warned committee members that the bill could promote pride parades. "I wonder how your constituents would feel if those parades came to them," she said.
In response, Smith said she was "elated" hearing the opposition because "these individuals are finally realizing we have epidemics in our society — of chlamydia, STIs and HIV," she said. "Maybe then Mr. Mills will be in support of a sex education bill."
The bill passed the committee 9-6.