Too little, too late, said one LGBT advocate of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff Department’s attempt to backtrack its use of an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law.
Local Sheriff Sid Gautreaux apologized after a media report found law enforcement officers were relying on a provision, struck down a full decade ago, to wrongfully arrest at least a dozen gay men over the last two years. The sheriff said his department did not intend to target the gay community, and that he had begun the process of erasing the law’s unconstitutional elements.
But the apology does not make up for what Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate, described as “a systematic attempt to degrade, humiliate, and punish gay men.”
“That backtracking is not to be believed,” said Breen on msnbc Tuesday.
Over the weekend, the Baton Rouge Advocate (not to be confused with the national magazine Breen runs) reported a series of sting operations, in which undercover deputies would pretend to pick up gay men, invite them to have sex at a public park, and then arrest them once they had set a date. None of the arrangements involved paying for sex, which is illegal, and most involved agreeing to have sex at a private residence away from the park.
The sheriff’s office said the intent was to “deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” in a statement released Sunday. None of the men arrested were found to have committed sexual acts in a public place.
The landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated state bans on consensual gay sex in 2003, exactly 10 years to the day before the high court struck down DOMA and cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California. But in Louisiana, laws prohibiting “unnatural carnal copulation” with members of the same, or opposite sex, or an animal are still on the books.
“I have informed all employees of the Sheriff’s Office they are not to use these unconstitutional laws,” said the sheriff in his statement released Monday afternoon. Gautreaux also said that he met with the East Baton Rouge District Attorney, who had refused to prosecute any of these cases, to “ensure that arrests are not made based on unenforceable and unconstitutional laws.”
In addition, Sheriff Gautreaux said he would begin discussion on removing the unconstitutional sections of Louisiana’s “Crimes Against Nature” law from the books. He also said he had scheduled a meeting with the Capital City Alliance group to “further the dialogue between law enforcement and the LGBT community.”
“Again, we made mistakes,” concluded Gautreaux. “Rather than make excuses or point fingers, we think it is most beneficial for our community as a whole to learn from this and move forward together in a positive direction to ensure the peace and safety of every individual we are here to serve.”
Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal has so far stayed silent on the matter.