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How legislation about shelter animals led to confusion over Michigan’s sodomy laws

A story circulated recently that took the Republican-led state Senate to task ostensibly for voting to uphold the Michigan statute that outlaws sodomy. The story was widely circulated and re-posted, but there was no actual basis in fact to what started as a blog post.

Proof that, like tequila, the internet can make you feel smart, but act dumb.

What really happened

There was a bill - supported by both Republicans and Democrats - that would protect shelter animals from being adopted by animal abusers. The measure happened to also amend a part of state law that includes a ban on sodomy.

This led a blogger to equate the vote to protect animals to an affirmation of the sodomy ban. It’s a stretch, to say the least, that this was the same as voting to criminalize sodomy.

Supreme Court rules

Meanwhile, the sodomy law, which may date back to as early as 1816, is, in fact, not enforceable. That’s because anti-sodomy laws like Michigan’s were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 Lawrence v Texas decision.

Now, that is not to say, that the Legislature could not have used this opportunity to remove the ban from the law books.

In fact, the controversy did call attention to that.  “I want our laws to be at the highest degree of not only efficiency, but what it says about us as a people. And I think it’s important that we go through these old statutes. Some of them are really ridiculous on their face,” Democratic state Senator Steve Bieda told It’s Just Politics.

Look for Bieda, as early as this spring, to take the lead as part of a push by state Democrats to rid Michigan’s books of all kinds of things that’ve been declared unconstitutional.

Scrubbing the books

But the push by Democrats is not likely to get very far. That’s because it will likely be a liberal wish list of laws that deal with things like same-sex marriage, gay rights, and abortion.

Even if they are unenforceable because of court decisions, the Republican Party’s social conservative base has no interest in striking them.  (Let’s remember, it is the GOP that controls both state legislative chambers.)

On abortion questions, in particular, social conservatives have never given up hope that the Supreme Court will one day return to and reverse its Roe v Wade decision that declared a right to privacy and the basic right to abortion.

Were that to happen, Michigan’s statutory ban on abortion - which is still on the books - would be re-activated.

In the meantime, on a less controversial track, Republican state Representative Chris Afendoulis is focusing on just plain old laws; those that can be voted on without much hubbub. Think: cursing in front of women and children and, now, the fact that it is, in Michigan, finally legal to get a haircut on a Sunday.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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