Being Gay is Still Illegal in This Louisiana Sheriff's Town

Despite the apparent gains for the LGBT rights movement in recent months, namely the Supreme Court's repeal of DOMA and its overruling of California's anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8, many areas of the country have not progressed past the Stone Age with regards to LGBT rights and dignity.

On Saturday the Advocate, an LGBT magazine, uncovered a sting operation run by the sheriff of East Baton Rouge targeting gay men in Louisiana. Under the sheriff's orders, police officers would meet gay men in public parks and bring them back to their apartments, where they would proceed to arrest the victim on the grounds of Louisiana's anti-sodomy laws.

The sting operations were merely the result of a zealously homophobic law enforcement agency who would like to see the U.S. return to the dark ages by targeting and harassing members of the LGBT community. The state of Louisiana should remove the sheriff from his position.

Moral outrage outside, anti-sodomy laws are indisputably unconstitutional. 19 states had repealed their sodomy laws by the end of the 1970s, but some states continued to actively enforce their laws as late as the 1990s. In 1998 the police arrested a gay couple in Houston under Texas anti-sodomy laws. The case took five years longer than it should have, until the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that homosexuality is not a crime in 2003, thereby overturning the remaining states' anti-sodomy laws.

Nonetheless, the sheriff's spokesman had the gall to defend the arrests, claiming that he has a duty to enforce all laws passed by the Louisiana legislature and that the courts would decide whether or not the laws were valid — even though the Supreme Court had clearly made that decision in 2003.

Thus, the sheriff's office is operating illegally and on completely unconstitutional grounds. No money was ever exchanged in these operations and the rendezvous were obviously consensual. Even if anti-sodomy laws were constitutional, the police presumably made the arrests before any sexual activity took place. Nonetheless, the East Baton Rouge police have arrested 12 men on sodomy charges since 2011, with the most recent arrest on July 18, causing public embarrassment and distress for their victims.

In addition to the sheriff's pure, unadulterated homophobia and harassment, the futile sting operations were undoubtedly a waste of taxpayer money and a terrible allocation of police resources. This is particularly concerning because in 2012, Louisiana had the honor of being the most violent state in the U.S. On top of that, Baton Rouge was ranked the eighth deadliest city the same year.  

Furthermore, the task force charged with performing the sting operations is explicitly responsible for stopping prostitution and child predators. The sheriff's office's most recent statement further demonstrates that they seem to equate homosexuality with pedophilia.

Despite the sheriff's initial response to the constitutionality of his arrests, his office continued to insult the public's intelligence by maintaining that they were unaware that anti-sodomy statutes are unenforceable. Their statement was rife with homophobic undertones. It claimed that the office was "honorable" and acting in "good faith" under anti-sodomy statutes, using them to respond to "reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing."

Now the sheriff's office is backtracking, claiming they didn't know the laws were constitutionally unenforceable.

"Does he know slavery is no longer around?" exclaimed one outraged LGBT advocate. "Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?"

Clearly the best way to protect our children from inappropriate public conduct is to target unsuspecting gay men, rather than finding the perpetrators of the alleged lewd conduct. As the sheriff's office attempts to make excuses for itself, its second statement makes it perfectly clear that it equates homosexuality with pedophilia and lewd conduct, assuming that the perpetrators of their supposed complaints must be gay.

The sheriff's demeaning actions and middle finger to the Supreme Court set an unfortunate precedent, as 13 other states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books. Virginia's attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, hoping to distract from ethics accusations, requested that a federal court overturn Virginia's ban on sodomy laws, allowing him to enforce Virginia's anti-sodomy statutes as governor.

Louisiana must punish East Baton Rouge's sheriff for his vicious, degrading actions by removing him from office. Above all, his behavior, alongside Cuccinelli and his ilk, are a sobering reminder that although the U.S. continues to make great strides in the LGBT rights movement, it still faces major setbacks in certain areas of the country.