Sodomy and Strategy

Social media is agog with the claim that Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill to ban anal and oral sex, aka sodomy. Here I explain two things. 1. Why the claim is false, and Michigan lawmakers are doing no such thing because sodomy is already banned in Michigan but not really. 2. Why Michigan lawmakers aren’t removing the ban. Remember, I’m a professional political scientist; do not try this at home.

1. Michigan Is Not Trying to Ban Sodomy; It’s Already Banned (but not enforceable)
This headline from rawstory is typical of what’s been going around social media today.

rawstory
And it’s not just them. In addition to a number of ignorant bloggers, lots of “news” sources are reporting this false claim.
sodomypages

But, no, the sponsor of this bill, Rick Jones, is not trying to ban sodomy–he’s trying to keep people convicted of animal cruelty from adopting animals. The text of the bill is here.

In part of the bill Jones was defining to whom the law applied, and that part of the bill contained the language about “abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind
or with any animal.” But that language already exists in the law–it’s not new language. Here is a screen capture of the relevant part of the bill.

sodomybilltext
What you see here is the current language of the law marked up for the bill. The bolded text is proposed new language, the strikeout text is proposed deletions, and the text that’s neither bold nor struck out? That’s what the law already is.

So this bill would not criminalize sodomy. Jones was not making any proposals about sodomy at all. And while it would be good to eliminate that language, the truth is that it’s dead language anyway; it’s not enforceable. The Supreme Court ruled laws banning sodomy unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas back in 2003.

So all you Michigan sodomites can just relax; the cops won’t be breaking down your doors when you commit this abominable and detestable crime against nature.

And all those “news” sources that are reporting this falsely should be condemned for dishonesty and/or laziness in the strongest terms. We may need journalism, but that doesn’t stop 98% of journalists from being the worst kind of hacks.

2. So Why Not Get Rid of that Language? Because of Strategy
First of all, because Jones is focusing on something entirely different, and everyone’s just mad that he’s not focusing on their pet issue, which they wouldn’t even be aware was an issue if he wasn’t focusing on that other thing. Right? So give him a break.

More importantly, he’s trying to be a smart strategic lawmaker. In his own words,

“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.”

Let’s break down the sausage works of legislation here.
1. Jones needs a majority of lawmakers to vote in favor of his bill.

2. Some lawmakers will vote against the bill, because any bill that is not a purely symbolic statement of American greatness and the importance of mothers will have somebody voting against it.

3. So Jones doesn’t want to encourage extra votes against his bill by tacking on an issue that’s irrelevant to his main issue.

4. Some small number of legislators would vote against a bill deleting unconstitutional language from the law just because they’re uptight moralists who oppose sodomy (and probably rum, but not the lash) and want to keep it illegal even if the law can’t be enforced.

5. Some larger number of legislators don’t care much one way or the other but don’t want the folks back home–and a future campaign opponent–accusing them of favoring sodomy, so they might vote against changing that language because it just isn’t worth the trouble.

6. Add the lawmakers in items 2, 4 and 5 together, and maybe there’s a majority against a bill that deletes the sodomy language. Leave the unenforceable sodomy language, and you only have to worry about the lawmakers in group 2.

It’s that simple.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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