Tuesday afternoon the Michigan House of Representatives will vote on Logan's Law, an animal cruelty bill that aims to stop convicted animal abusers from getting their hands on new pets. The provision, which passed the senate last week and sounds good if that's all you know about it, is gaining media attention, however, for another reason: its inclusion of a section that bars sodomy "either with mankind or with another animal."
Anti-Sodomy laws — typically associated with "Homosexual Conduct" laws — were knocked-down by the Supreme Court in 2003 during the ruling of Lawrence v. Texas. At the time fourteen states — including Michigan — had a law of this nature on their books. Today, over a decade later, twelve states
still criminalize sodomy, despite it going against the law of the land.
As Mother Jones explained
in a 2011 article on the trend, "Conservatives in those states know they can't enforce the laws, but by keeping them in the code, they can send a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government."
What's perplexing about Michigan's Logan's Law — and why it's getting so much media attention — is that the language around the anti-sodomy clause (also known as "deviant sexual conduct") actually updates the language. So basically at a time when legislators should be taking the language off the books, they are actually spending time revising it.
Under the revision — which let's be honest, doesn't really do anything — a person engaging in sodomy with another person could be convicted of felony and spend up to 15 years in prison. A sex offender caught engaging in sodomy with another person? They could spend the rest of their life in prison.
For some context: Darnell Earley, the former Emergency Manager of Flint and soon-to-be-out Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools, has refused a request
by congress to testify about his role in Flint Water Crisis. If Earley continues to shirk his responsibilities he could be found in contempt of congress. His max sentence? One year of jail time.
Sit with that.
When The New Civil Rights Movement
tracked down Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), the legislator responsible for the update in language, they asked why he didn't just remove the provision — as that would technically be the responsible thing to do, considering the Supreme Court outlawed bans like this over ten years ago.
"The minute I cross that line and I start talking about the other stuff, I won’t even get another hearing. It’ll be done," Jones told the news site. "Nobody wants to touch it. I would rather not even bring up the topic, because I know what would happen. You’d get both sides screaming and you end up with a big fight that’s not needed because it’s unconstitutional."
While it may be unconstitutional, that doesn't mean such laws don't cause pain, shame and hassle. Take for example the 2013 case when Louisiana police in East Baton Rouge Parish arrested a group of gay men in a sting operation focused on the state's anti-sodomy law. The cause for arrest? The mens' alleged crimes against nature. While the district attorney did not (and could not) charge the men with anything — he said the law was unenforceable — the entire charade was degrading and dehumanizing.
So, yes, while Jones is correct that the anti-sodomy law is already "unconstitutional" that does not mean there isn't a need for Michigan to take it off its books.
Unfortunately his reasoning is somewhat par for the course. When Montana, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia state legislatures initially tried to take the anti-sodomy bills off their books they all faced resistance. Only TWO of those seven actually succeeded in decriminalizing sodomy (Montana in 2013 and Virginia a year later). What makes Jones' answer somewhat more pathetic, however, is the fact that Michigan is not trying
to take the law off its books but facing resistance — it is actually boosting the language of the provision and securing its place in our state history. Even more perplexing? Back in December, Snyder signed a package of bills that repealed more than 80 antiquated laws
. It would have made perfect sense to do the same with the sodomy language, but no. Of course not.
State senator David Knezek said almost exactly that in a lengthy Facebook post today
. He's taken issue with folks who've trumpeted headlines insinuating that Michigan just banned sodomy or that there was some sort of unanimous vote to do so. That's, of course, not what happened, but Knezek does admit the state Senate might deserve criticism for not taking the chance to banish the language entirely.
A bill stating, "Prevent animal abusers from adopting animals", was placed before the Senate and all of us voted "yes". It was indeed a unanimous vote - a vote to prevent animal abusers from adopting animals - on a bill, as you now know, whose section of law also included the subsection which includes the unconstitutional ban on oral and anal sex.
To be fair, I would welcome criticism stating that we, the Senate, missed an opportunity to take this unconstitutional ban off the books or at least message on the issue and the need for its removal. It would be fair to say the Senate, by way of not removing the ban, reaffirmed its existence in state law and that's not good either.