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Louisiana Sheriff Uses Unconstitutional Law to Arrest Gay Men

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws across the country in its landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision, but that has not stopped one Louisiana sheriff who has used the state’s “Crime Against Nature” statute to arrest gay men in parks over the past two years for agreeing to have sex with other men in their homes. While no charges have been filed against any of the men, they are still arrested, thrown in jail, and for many, outed to the community. The arrests create a record and, as Louisiana is one of 29 states without explicit employment protections for LGB people,  the men risk losing their jobs.

The story comes out of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office where a Special Community Anti-Crime Team has been running sting operations in a community park. The team finds gay men and an uncover officer invites them home for “some drinks and some fun,” then arrests them after they go to a nearby apartment. The same team also runs sting operations for child predators, but has been instead using its time and resources to harass gay men for doing constitutionally protected activity. The stings target older men – the most recent a 65 year-old – who are less likely to be openly LGBT.

Louisiana is one of 17 states that still have sodomy laws in their state codes.[1] Although the laws are rarely enforced and even more rarely lead to convictions, it has not stopped police departments from using them to harass LGBT individuals. Officers in Michigan have run undercover operations to arrest gay men and a sodomy law in North Carolina was used to charge two gay men with a felony in 2008. In June, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli asked a federal appeals court to uphold Virginia’s sodomy law. His request was denied on constitutional grounds.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks defended the arrests, saying “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.” In Louisiana, sheriffs are also charged with and take an oath to, “support the constitution and laws of the United States,” but that didn’t seem to matter to them.  As the Supreme Court has made clear, supporting the constitution means protecting the privacy of LGBT individuals.

Since the story broke, Sheriff Sid Gautreau has apologized for the arrests and made a plan to prevent future incidents. If you have been a victim of one of these arrests, please contact the ACLU of Louisiana.

[1] In 2013, Montana repealed its sodomy law, dropping the total from 18 to 17.

By Trevor Boeckmann, Holley Law Fellow