Sodomite Suppression Act Proposed in California?

Rumor: A pending ballot initiative would make homosexuality a capital crime in California.

Claim:   A pending ballot initiative would make homosexuality a capital crime in California.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, February 2015]

I’m hoping this is fake. The Sodomite Suppression Act ballot initiative was filed in California last month.


Origins:   On 24 February 2015, Huntington Beach attorney Matthew McLaughlin filed a proposed ballot initiative titled “The Sodomite Suppression Act” with the California Attorney General’s office. The measure sought to make any homosexual sex act a crime punishable by death (via “death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method”), outlaw the distribution of “Sodomistic propaganda” (with penalties for violation ranging from imprisonment to a $1 million fine to permanent expulsion from California), and to bar “sodomites” from public employment, public office, and public benefits:

a) The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also
sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty,
commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he
overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha.

b) 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.

c) 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.

d) No person shall serve in any public office, nor serve in public
employment, nor enjoy any public benefit, who is a sodomite or who espouses
sodomistic propaganda or who belongs to any group that does.

e) This law is effective immediately and shall not be rendered
ineffective nor invalidated by any court, state or federal, until heard
by a quorum of the Supreme Court of California consisting only of judges
who are neither sodomites nor subject to disqualification hereunder.

McLaughlin also included (an unenforceable) provision in his initiative barring its invalidation by anyone other than a “non-sodomite” quorum of state Supreme Court judges:

This law is effective immediately and shall not be rendered ineffective or invalidated by any court, state or federal, until heard by a quorum of the Supreme Court of California consisting only of judges who are neither sodomites nor subject to disqualification hereunder.

The extreme nature of the “Sodomite Suppression Act” led many readers to question its authenticity, particularly the putative reasoning behind it. Is McLaughlin a prankster who submitted the initiative purely as a spoof, was he trying to make a point about a need to reform the California initiative process, or is he really possessed of
fundamentalist beliefs? These questions remain unanswered as McLaughlin has been unavailable since news of his proposed measure hit the media, but this measure wasn’t his first effort along these lines, and the nature of one of his previous ballot proposals doesn’t rule out any of those possibilities:

A Huntington Beach attorney who credits the Bible with helping him become an honor student is pushing for a state ballot measure to put the Scriptures in the hands of public school students as a literary text.

Matt McLaughlin received approval from the secretary of state’s office to begin gathering signatures for the King James Bible as Textbook initiative, which would amend the Constitution to allow teachers to use the Bible in literature classes.

“Even if you don’t believe its teachings, you’ll agree that it includes rich usage of the English language,” he said.

“That’s what makes it good literature.”

Under the proposal, classroom Bible reading would still be voluntary, and students could substitute another text, said McLaughlin.

It is true that McLaughlin really did file the proposal (along with the required $200 filing fee), but that act alone will not get it voted upon by California residents. McLaughlin still has to collect 365,000 signatures from Californians first, and as the San Diego Union-Tribune observed, this measure has zero chance of actually making its way onto a ballot, being approved by voters, or withstanding constitutional scrutiny:

It’s unclear if [McLaughlin] will actually make an effort to collect signatures.

If he does, he will need to collect the valid signatures of more than 365,000 registered California voters in just 180 days. He won’t be able to do it.

If, miraculously, he did gather sufficient signatures, it would go on the ballot in November 2016. California voters would overwhelmingly reject it.

If, through some incredible and shocking mistake, voters approved it, it would be quickly challenged in court again and at that point it would be quickly ruled unconstitutional.

Or, as James Ching detailed on the web site:

Legally, the initiative is an appalling mess. Like your Aunt Hattie’s mauve and chartreuse 1959 Caddy, one simply stares at it in disbelief. Subdivision (b) creates a new defense to murder; subdivision (c) creates a category of speech in a manner suspect under the First Amendment and proposes what may seem excessive fines; subdivision (d) seems to effect discrimination under the 14th Amendment and the First Amendment; subdivision (e) disturbs the separation of powers, as the Legislature cannot ex post facto disqualify a judicial officer and certainly not without appropriate due process; and subdivision (f) is void for vagueness, in addition to creating blanket defenses for whatever violations of law are committed in “execut[ing] all the provisions [of the initiative] extra-judicially.”

As a whole, the initiative cannot be regarded as a serious legislative proposal and it could not survive any court review if it ever passed. Moreover, unless the initiative becomes backstopped by a whole lot of money, it will never gain the approximately 365,000 voter signatures required to place it on the ballot. Social conservatives would never put any serious money into this project when they have achieved much greater success using the theme of religious freedom, such as Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And if on the ballot, it would never pass in a state where LGBT residents of San Francisco are 6.2% of the population and 4.6% of the population of Los Angeles.

Following Ockham’s Razor, it appears that the initiative was designed to gain a maximum amount of publicity for very low cost, in this case a filing fee of $200. More speculation might turn to discussion of the initiative as a Swiftian satire of social conservative attitudes towards gay society. This modest proposal for interpretation of the author’s motives is somewhat diminished by the initiative author’s previous failed initiative to use the Bible as a public schools instructional text.

Last updated:   29 March 2015


    Dolan, Maura.   “Federal Judge Rules California Death Penalty Unconstitutional.”

    Los Angeles Times.   16 July 2014.

    Pusey, Allen.   “June 26, 2003: Court Overturns Bowers v. Hardwick.”

    ABA Journal.   1 June 2012.

    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   “What to Do About the Worst California Initiative Ever Proposed.”

    27 March 2015.
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