At least a dozen men have been arrested by the East Baton Rouge sheriff's office in Louisiana since 2011 for agreeing to have consensual sex with an undercover male officer, according to a report by The Advocate newspaper.
These men weren't handing over money or having sex in a public place. Instead, they were arrested under Louisiana's anti-sodomy law, despite the fact that such laws were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.
The most recent case discovered by The Advocate involved a 65-year-old man who was approached by an undercover cop earlier this month in a park. The police officer, who denied he was a cop, reportedly asked if the man wanted to go back to the man's apartment for "some drinks and some fun." After the man agreed and led the officer back to his apartment, he was arrested for an attempted "crime against nature."
Similar stings had been conducted by the sheriff's office even after the district attorney refused to prosecute them. Its rationale for the arrests?
"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," Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, told The Advocate. "Whether the law is valid is something for the courts to determine, but the sheriff will enforce the laws that are enacted."
Hicks is right that an anti-sodomy law still exists in Louisiana, where a ban on "the unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same sex or opposite sex" has been around since 1805. It is one of 13 states — including Michigan, Mississippi, and Florida — that still has anti-sodomy laws on the books.
As recently as May, Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia attorney general now running for governor, defended his state's ban on consensual anal and oral sex after it was struck down by a federal appeals court. Tim Murphy of Mother Jones has called these unconstitutional laws "a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government."
In Baton Rouge, members of the LGBT community have condemned the arrests.
"It was really a case of targeting people," Bruce Parker, head of Equality Louisiana, told The New York Times. "Many of their lives were dramatically ruined because of this."
Matthew Patterson, a board member of the Capital City Alliance, an advocacy group, complained to KSLA TV that the sheriff's office had no legal basis for the arrests.
"At the end of the day people were getting arrested for what amounted to having a conversation about doing something that is not against the law," Patterson said. "And I just really couldn't fathom that is something you could get arrested for."
The sheriff's office initially defended its actions by claiming that a park "is not the place to initiate or attempt to initiate sexual relations."
It later backtracked, saying that it never meant to "embarrass any part of our law-abiding community" and that it would stop using "these unconstitutional sections of the law in future cases."