Did Michigan Senate Reaffirm the Criminalization of Sodomy?

Four Words in New Bestiality Law Cause Controversy

By Todd A. Heywood

An effort to create a law to prevent people convicted of abusing animals from adopting or owning an animal for five years after their conviction is in jeopardy over an attempt to repurpose an obsolete law banning bestiality.

The Michigan State Senate voted 37-1 on Feb. 4 to approve the measure known as Logan's Law. That law would allow animal welfare organizations free access to the state's criminal database to verify whether or not potential adopters had been convicted of crimes of abuse or neglect involving animals. But in the course of adopting the measure, lawmakers approved an amendment to the obsolete abominable and detestable crime against nature law.

That law is commonly called the sodomy law and because lawmakers did not amend the language to remove references to consensual sex between adults -- a part of the law which was deemed unconstitutional by a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling -- the internet unravelled. Numerous websites proclaimed the state Senate had approved legislation to criminalize sodomy with a 15 year sentence.

"This (controversy) is being fueled by people who are not from the state," said Sen Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. He's the bill's sponsor and head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They do not know the legislative process here and they do not know the players. As a result they have simply got the facts wrong on what was approved."

"Sen. Jones is completely full of shit," said John Wright, a reporter based in Texas who published the original report on The New Civil Rights Movement website. "He's probably catching hell for authoring a bill that reaffirms the sodomy ban, so he's shooting the messenger ... Although sodomy bans have been declared unconstitutional, law enforcement officials in some states have continued to try to enforce them. Furthermore, their mere presence on the books sends a dangerous message to LGBT youth. Would Sen. Jones author a bill that reaffirmed racial segregation, even though it's unconstitutional? I don't think so. The Michigan Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, should be ashamed of this vote. And the House should immediately amend the bill to eliminate the four words in question."

Senators report that they have "spent more time talking about sodomy" in the last week as a result. The question is -- was The New Civil Right Movement correct or is Sen. Jones right, that the organization simply had it wrong?

It's a little bit of both actually. From an outsider and political novice perspective, the Senate did indeed vote to keep four words in the obsolete law which -- if they were not unconstitutional -- would criminalize consensual oral and anal sex between two adults.

Here's the original law's language:

Sec. 158. (1) Any person who shall commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 15 years, or if such person was at the time of the said offense, a sexually delinquent person, may be punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for an indeterminate term, the minimum of which shall be 1 day and the maximum of which shall be life.

Wright argues that by not removing "either with mankind or" from the language, the Senate approved criminalizing sodomy in Michigan.

But Jones and other state lawmakers argue that when existing laws are amended by legislative process, the lawmakers casting their votes are voting on specific changes. Words that are being removed are highlighted by a line through them, while words that are being added are capitalized and bolded in the legislation presented to the public and for a vote.

Here's the section from the legislation that is causing all the controversy:

Sec. 158. (1) Any A person who shall commit COMMITS the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison FOR not more than 15 years, or if such person THE DEFENDANT was A SEXUALLY DELINQUENT PERSON at the time of the said offense, a sexually delinquent person, may be A FELONY punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for an indeterminate term, the minimum of which shall be 1 day and the maximum of which shall be life.

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, serves on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. He, along with Jones, pushed the legislation. He agrees with Jones that an attempt to remove those four words would have ensnared the animal rights bill in the politics of war between social conservatives and liberals.

The controversy, which Jones and other senators say was stoked by a misunderstanding of Michigan's legislative process, will likely result in the GOP controlled House striking the entire passage on sex with animals from the final bill and sending it back for approval from the Senate. This would effectively allow those convicted of sexual activity with animals the ability to own domestic animals despite the conviction.

Ironically, the "abominable and detestable crimes against nature" law -- which was ruled unconstitutional in 2003 by a Supreme Court ruling, at least as it applies to humans and sexual activity -- would stay on the books. Untouched. Unconstitutional. And Un-enforceable.

Former judge and attorney Rudy Serra has written extensively on Michigan's sodomy law and the laws of gross indecency between various genders. He has advocated for the repeal of those laws, and said that Michigan lawmakers should strike the entire law -- bestiality and sexual activity among adults -- from the books.

"It's clearly unconstitutional," Serra said. "So, repeal it. If lawmakers want to make bestiality a crime, they can and should adopt a clear plain English law that puts a citizen on notice about what is prohibited."

The language of the law dates back in Michigan history to 1859, but finds its roots in Biblical literature, Serra said.

"The language is certainly archaic," said Bieda, the Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Would a stand alone bill defining bestiality work? Yes, probably."

And Jones said he would support Serra's "plain English" version of a law outlawing bestiality if that is what the state House passes on.

Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, said she believes the failure to address the human on human language of the law was "an oversight" and believes the House will address it.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township, said he will introduce legislation to repeal the entire law.


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