James Gill: Law’s repeal faces uphill battle

What Gene Mills says about Louisiana’s sodomy laws isn’t true, but maybe that’s an honest mistake.

Mills, as president of the Louisiana Family Forum, is a professional Christian. He knows his 10 Commandments backwards and forwards. So it would be a serious knock to assume Mills is lying just because he gets something wrong. It happens, after all, quite a lot.

Sure, it is a matter of record that Mills is willing to bear false witness in support of a religious or political objective. He strayed considerably from the truth in foisting creationist myth on our schools, for instance. But he could still just be misinformed this time.

Mills opposes a bill filed for the upcoming legislative session that would repeal the law criminalizing gay sex. It probably makes no difference what happens to the bill, because the sodomy law is plainly unconstitutional. Cops and prosecutors will not waste their time enforcing it. Still, there is no point cluttering up the books with outmoded laws, so reason says get rid of it.

Whatever reason says, the Forum says the opposite, so it is no surprise that Mills wants a useless statute left in place. The Forum has such a powerful hold on the credulous masses that Mills may well be right when he predicts tough sledding for the repeal bill, filed by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

But he does not say he wants the law left in place because gays are sinners, although that is where he is really coming from. Instead he asserts that the law has not been tested in court and that prosecutions under it have not been pursued because the defendants were entrapped.

It would be uncharitable to say each of these propositions is a whopper, but the best we can say for Mills is that he is under a serious misapprehension. The Louisiana law, which prescribes five years for what it quaintly terms “crime against nature,” has been a nullity since 2003. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court found all state laws banning oral and anal sex unconstitutional. Court tests don’t get more definitive than that.

The Legislature, no doubt reluctant to cross the Forum, left the statute in place, thus causing some confusion in the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. Gay groups raised a stink last year when they read in the paper that undercover deputies had been fanning out in Manchac Park, giving men hanging out there a fake come-on and then taking them to jail when they turned up later for a date. A backup team last summer obligingly taped a deputy inviting one dupe for “drinks and some fun” at a nearby apartment.

Deputies had pulled this stunt at least 12 times in the preceding couple of years, evidently without wondering why East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III refused charges every time. Baton Rouge remained stuck in a time warp until news of the Manchac Park busts spread coast to coast, and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux was wised up to the Supreme Court ruling. He vowed to push for repeal of the statute. The state sheriffs’ and district attorneys’ associations are of the same mind.

It is true that undercover deputies went out of their way to entice gay men, but the reason no charges were accepted, as Moore explained, is that no crime had occurred. Thus there was never any reason to claim entrapment. “I don’t believe it’s the law” that explains why nobody was prosecuted, Mills says. But then what Mills believes frequently defies the facts.

Indeed, Mills himself cannot always believe what he says. Take, for instance, his various public pronouncements on what goes by the preposterous name of the Louisiana Science Education Act. The act, which allows “supplemental materials” to be introduced in biology class, was drafted and vigorously pushed by the Forum, so there was no point in denying its creationist purpose.

Mills did so anyway, declaring in 2008, “This bill is not about teaching creationism or religion.” When it passed, the Education Department called his bluff by drafting regulations that forbade the promotion of biblical literalism in science classes. Mills promptly removed all doubt about the veracity of his earlier assurances by protesting what he called a “cheap shot”on Christianity. Those fearless guardians of academic integrity on Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education promptly caved in.

Mills got his baleful way that time, but he can’t rewrite Supreme Court opinions.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.