Debbie Reyes, prison abolitionist with the California Prison Moratorium Project, and Juan Avitia, Fresno Brown Berets and the Mexican American Political Association, at a rally in front of the Fresno City Hall protesting the Sodomite Suppression Act. Image by Ernesto Saavedra.

The Sodomite Suppression Act: Absurd and Hateful

By Ernesto Saavedra 

In case you haven’t heard, at the end of February of this year, Matt McLaughlin, a lawyer out of Huntington Beach, submitted a proposal for a ballot initiative called the Sodomite Suppression Act. The act seeks to ban “sodomistic” behavior and all those that participate in it or even talk about it from California. To give you an idea, one of the measures in it reads as follows:

No person shall distribute, perform, or transmit sodomistic propaganda directly or indirectly by any means to any person under the age of majority. Sodomistic propaganda is defined as anything aimed at creating an interest in or an acceptance of human sexual relations other than between a man and a woman. Every offender shall be fined $1 million per occurrence, and/ or imprisoned up to 10 years, and/or expelled from the boundaries of the state of California for up to life.

Furthermore, this proposed initiative bans anyone who is a “sodomite” from holding public office, public employment and from receiving public benefits. If you think that was bad, wait until you read this:

Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating-wickedness in our midst, the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.

That’s right. Not only is McLaughlin asking for people to be banned from all public life but also that they be put to death. This could be quite a shocker for some considering it is 2015 and we are in the “golden state.” However, the Sodomite Suppression Act is continuing a long tradition of homophobia here in the United States.

Up until 1976, sodomy was illegal in California and it wasn’t until after the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that the sodomy laws in Texas and all other states were declared unconstitutional. Still, people like McLaughlin see it as “God’s just wrath” to eliminate a whole community. A community who refuses to sit idly by and let this hatred go unchecked, especially in places like Fresno.

Back in 2008, many declared Fresno as the middle ground for determining whether Proposition 8, the proposition to ban same-sex marriage, would pass. After it passed, it was challenged, and in May 2009 Fresno again became the battleground for gay rights and equality and hosted Meet in the Middle for Equality, which took place in downtown Fresno. One of the organizing groups, Equality California, thought it important to bring the fight to places like Fresno because “California’s Central Valley population is far more reflective of national attitudes towards LBGT Equality and until we engage the communities of ‘middle-America,’ we will not gain the full equality we deserve.”

Martin Martinez, member of Gay Blood Rise and the Mexican American Political Association, leading a chant during the rally against the Sodomite Suppression Act.
Martin Martinez, member of Gay Blood Rise and the Mexican American Political Association, leading a chant during the rally against the Sodomite Suppression Act.

Fast forward to April 6, 2015, after learning about the Sodomite Suppression Act, Martin Martinez, a member of Gay Blood Rise and the Mexican American Political Association, helped organize a rally in front of Fresno City Hall. The intentions were to bring awareness to the Sodomite Suppression Act and denounce it as a hate crime. “I feel like it’s a hate crime to even write a petition to kill a homosexual,” says Martinez. “It’s not sane to kill a human being. It’s important to speak against this act because lives matter even if you’re gay, lesbian, Black or White, rich or poor. Lives matter no matter how they are in life.”

Debbie Reyes, prison abolitionist with the California Prison Moratorium Project, was at the rally and had this to say, “California voters should not be subjected to this horrendous act that would pave the way to committing a ‘hate crime’ that the Sodomite Suppression Act calls for. Penal Code Section 422.6-422.865 already defines hate crimes against a class of peoples. These haters are malicious and are willing to kill their own to parade their implicit bias against a class of people and our families.”

In addition to the absurdity of McLaughlin’s proposed ballot initiative is that it even became a ballot initiative in the first place. Reading up on this story, I found out that McLaughlin paid only $200 to put it into consideration. Now, legislators in Sacramento are scrambling to prevent this from happening again. One idea is to increase the fee. However, will this really get to the root of the problem? I think not.

McLaughlin seems to have the time and resources to pay the money to propose such a thing and increasing the fee might keep people with little means from proposing good ballot initiatives that actually bring our communities up, not down. The system and its processes are obviously flawed, and it is time to rethink the whole thing. If, as a society, we simply dismiss this as “freedom of speech” or it being

his “right,” then our priorities are way out of whack.

In the meantime, fight back like Charlotte Laws, former activist and politician from Los Angeles, who is proposing her own ballot initiative called the Intolerant Jackass Act, which in part reads:

Any person, herein known as an “Intolerant Jackass,” who brings forth a ballot measure that suggests the killing of gays and/or lesbians, whether this measure is called the Sodomite Suppression Act or is known by some other name, shall be required to attend sensitivity training for at least three (3) hours per month for twelve (12) consecutive months. In addition, the offender or “Intolerant Jackass” must donate $5,000 to a pro-gay or pro-lesbian organization.

Let the spectacle begin.

*****

Ernesto Saavedra is the editor of the Community Alliance. Contact him at ernesto.fresnoca@gmail. com. 

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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