Last night I attended a performance of The Wooster Group's version of Tennessee Williams' play, "Vieux Carr
Dear Arthur S. Leonard
Professor of Law
Editor, Lesbian/Gay Law Notes:
Do you know the current status of the anti-sodomy laws in New Orleans in 2011 and how these laws apply to heterosexual and homosexual people both single and married ?
Do you know the status of those same laws in New Orleans in 1938-1939 (the time and place of Tennessee Williams
In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that criminal sodomy laws may not be enforced against consenting adults whose conduct is private. My understanding is that the renegade Louisiana legislature has not responded to this decision by repealing or amending its sodomy law to restrict it to applications that would be constitutional, and that law enforcement remains inconsistent.
In the period in which this play was set, sodomy was a felony offense in every state in the U.S. Enforcement varied based on local customs. There was always an “underground” gay community in New Orleans, but attracting the attention of law enforcement was dangerous. Today the gay community in New Orleans is much more in the open, there are gay bars and clubs, and the city outlaws anti-gay discrimination, but the criminal law remains a problem, especially in terms of solicitation and street cruising.
California in 1938-39 may have been more permissive than Louisiana, but my understanding is that law enforcement against gay people was a serious problem in California until the sodomy law was repealed in the 1970s, and even after that there have remained difficulties about solicitation and cruising. Recently there has been a big flap in Palm Springs about a police entrapment operation in a public park, for example.
Thank you for your informative response.
Are you familiar with the following headline and blog post link ?
January 26, 2010
New Orleans police use “crime against nature” law to harass sex workers
How would a “gay for pay” character like Tye in The Wooster Group’s version of Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carre be treated by the police in New Orleans if caught receiving payment of $100 in exchange for fellatio aka “trade” in 1938 and in 2011 ?
Thank you in advance for your help.
Nathaniel A. Siegel
The answer is that “Love for sale” is still illegal in Louisiana, as it is in almost every state in the U.S. (The notable exception is Nevada, which allows counties local option on this, and even then the sale of sex is only legal in a licensed brothel.) Certainly the sodomy law should not enter into it, but the problem is that the US Supreme Court’s 2003 decision does not apply to commercial sexual transactions, solely to private, consensual, non-commercial adult sex.